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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

From Foggy Bottom to Phoenix: Yuta Watanabe’s journey to the NBA

Sandra Koretz | Staff Photographer
Phoenix Suns forward Yuta Watanabe zeroes in for a layup.

In September 2014, a shy, scrawny freshman arrived in Foggy Bottom speaking little English but carrying very high hopes.

This Sunday, the same player returned to play basketball in the District — this time as a small forward for the Phoenix Suns, scoring 7 points as the Suns took down the Washington Wizards 140-112.

Dubbed “The Chosen One” by Japanese media, Yuta Watanabe found incredible success during his four-year career at GW, helping lead the team to an NIT championship his sophomore year and winning Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year his senior year. He ended his collegiate career second in program history in blocked shots and games played and 15th in points scored.

Not only was Watanabe able to find success on the court, but off it, as well. He earned a spot on the A-10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll his freshman year for a GPA above 3.5, learned English, attended tutor sessions and never complained through the challenges.

“Yesterday, I was actually on campus looking around,” Watanabe said in an interview following Sunday’s game. “It brought back to me so many memories.”

After going undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft, the 6’9” forward played in the Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets, impressing enough to earn a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies. Following two years splitting time between the Grizzlies and the Hustle, a minimum-salary contract with the Toronto Raptors turned into an opportunity for real minutes.

Senior guard Yuta Watanabe scored a career-high 31 points during his final game at the Smith Center. (Madeleine Cook | Staff Photographer)

Watanabe was just the 10th GW player to make it to the NBA and is currently the only active Revolutionary in the Association.

“Me being in the NBA from GW, I feel like I want to keep representing,” Watanabe said. “So I’m going to keep working hard.”

Watanabe played in 50 games for the Raptors in the 2020-21 season, scoring 218 total points and shooting 40.0 percent from three. After one more year in Toronto, Watanabe joined the Brooklyn Nets, where he played the most of his career — averaging 16 minutes per game, playing in 58 games. Notably, by Nov. 20, 2022, 17 games into the season, he led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 57.1.

“I had a lot of tough times, doing a lot of ups and downs, a lot of games and stuff,” Watanabe said. “So it’s not always easy, but always stay ready. Just always put in the work no matter what. And when you’re not always called, you just got to show up and play.”

Despite playing for the Suns for the last year, Watanabe said he has kept in touch with the Revolutionaries’ season and spent time on campus with Head Coach Chris Caputo last year.

“I saw the new coach last year when I came to D.C.,” Watanabe said. “I know he’s a great coach, great guy. We have so many talented players. So I’m really excited for the GW team this year.”

Sandra Koretz | Staff Photographer

Being the second Japanese player in the NBA and a one-time Olympian, Watanabe has faced a multitude of challenges playing professionally. He said when faced with hardship, he reflects on his time at GW for inspiration to push through.

“I couldn’t really speak English. I had to go to classes and then see a tutor and then go to other classes, then lunch, practice, go to another tutor,” Watanabe said. “I was so busy, but I was able to do that. I overcame a lot of tough times during the GW time. So, right now, my job is to play basketball.”

Now, Watanabe is coming off the bench for the Suns, often only getting in at the end of the game if the Suns are up big. But on Sunday, as Watanabe once again stepped back onto a D.C. court, the crowd cheered.

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