Japan's Interest In NBA Could Explode If Watanabe Makes Grizzlies
Grizzlies G Yuta Watanabe is poised to become "just the second Japanese player" to play in the NBA should be suit up for a game this season, according to Mark Giannotto of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. The team signed Watanabe to a "two-way contract, meaning he could spend up to 45 days in the NBA this season" while playing the majority of his games in the G League. Watanabe said that the "possibility that he could wear a Grizzlies jersey took the attention Japanese media paid to [him] to 'another level.'" Almost 20 Japanese media members "requested credentials" to a Grizzlies open scrimmage at FedExForum this weekend. Giannotto noted Watanabe signing with the Grizzlies was "something of a perfect storm for the basketball community in Japan." Gonzaga F Rui Hachimura is projected as a "potential lottery pick" in the '19 NBA Draft, and he and Watanabe are "expected to lead the Japanese national team" in the '20 Tokyo Games. Despite baseball's popularity in Japan, these "confluence of events are drawing more eyeballs to the basketball court." Kyodo News Service's Wataru Serizawa noted the excitement around Watanabe and Hachimura is not at the level around Angels DH/P Shohei Ohtani but said, "It'll be a big thing when (Watanabe) actually makes it to the NBA. Right now, it's waiting to happen. Once he makes it, maybe more attention will come to the Grizzlies as a whole" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 9/30).