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Basketball fans in Japan had a chance to celebrate one of their own on Monday night after the Toronto Raptors announced their signing of Yuta Watanabe to a standard NBA contract, reports Kaz Nagatsuka.

Eric Koreen, the lead Raptors writer for The Athletic, says that the move has made “more and more sense” recently, with Watanabe scoring in double digits in his last three games, including a career-high 21 points on Friday.

His compatriot in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, has not been doing bad either, with the Washington Wizard tying his career high of  30 points at the tail end of March.

Open Gym pres. by Bell S9E7 | THE YUTA WATANABE STORY | TORONTO RAPTORS
Open Gym pres. by Bell S9E7 | THE YUTA WATANABE STORY | TORONTO RAPTORS

Japan’s B. League, meanwhile, will increase the number of first-division teams to 24 in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons, Nagatsuka reports. Twenty clubs are currently competing in the top-tier B1 after two were promoted from the B2, and the league announced last year that it would expand the number to 22 for the 2021-22 campaign.

As competition becomes fiercer, the circuit is increasingly focused on discovering and honing young players’ individual skills. Every team must have an under-15 squad, and these are providing players with experiences they might not get at school clubs, which are often criticized for emphasizing collectivism over individual development, writes Nagatsuka.

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