Basketball / NBA

Yuta Watanabe not distracted by rising profile in Japan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Yuta Watanabe has certainly become a basketball celebrity in Japan, having become the second-ever player from the country to play in the NBA this season.

But the youngster’s celebrity seems to keep growing.

Since Watanabe, who signed a two-way deal with the Memphis Grizzlies in July, returned to Japan last Wednesday, he’s been busy with various business and media obligations.

On Tuesday, he shot his first-ever television commercial, for Sun Chlorella, a Kyoto-based health foods company, at Todoroki Arena.

“I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Watanabe said of the shoot with a bitter smile. “But overall, I was able have fun doing it.”

The 206-cm forward, who has used the company’s supplements since last year, stressed the importance of having a healthy diet in order to perform at a high level. That’s certainly been the case for him while competing in a premier hoop circuit like the NBA.

“You have to cope with the NBA’s tough schedule, said Watanabe, who played in 15 games for the Grizzlies during the 2018-19 season.

Watanabe added that being a two-way player made it even harder to handle the schedule. But he said his conditioning “was never an issue.”

As an official sponsorship athlete of the company, Watanabe will be provided with Sun Chlorella’s products.

In addition to his diet, Watanabe also thinks being in the NBA, which provides access to better facilities, nutrition and support staffers, can help make a player even better.

“I’ve always thought that way,” the 24-year-old said. “In the NBA, you have a better diet and strength coaches to make you better physically …And the number of coaches, it makes me feel like there’s more of them than us players.”

Watanabe said he could not compare the environment in the NBA with that of Japan, because he’s never competed on the professional level in his home country. Nevertheless, the Kagawa Prefecture native hinted that enhancing those off-court elements would be key to the development of Japanese basketball.

Watanabe, who debuted in the NBA as the second player from Japan behind Yuta Tabuse, said more people have recognized him and talked to him in public since he came back. He feels all the dedication he’s made since he was a little boy to get to where he is now “has paid off.”

But he insisted he wouldn’t rest on his laurels and wants to keep focusing on his priority: playing well on the hardwood.

“I’m a basketball player first and foremost,” the George Washington University alum said, when asked if he wants to do more commercial shoots in the future. “So I want to put basketball above everything else. I want to do it as hard as I can, and hopefully, I’ll be able to get those opportunities the next time I come back to Japan.”

Watanabe also hopes to earn a legitimate NBA contract. While he is scheduled to participate in the NBA Summer League in July, he is also likely to be part of the Japanese men’s national team for this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China.