Yuta Watanabe may not know it yet, but the Toronto Raptors’ Japanese forward has quickly become a sensation back in his home country.
Since cracking the Raptors roster in training camp this fall, Watanabe has become a fan favourite in Toronto and back home in Japan. According to the NBA’s international PR branch, both he and fellow countryman Rui Hachimura have accounted for 46% of all jersey sales on Japan’s online NBA store, NBAStore.jp, and this season the Raptors have become the best-selling team in Japan from an overall merchandise perspective.
Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Wizards and Hachimura will see the NBA’s only two Japanese players play each other for the third time in NBA history.
The only other Japanese player to crack the NBA was Yuta Tabuse who played in four games for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05.
Watanabe tied his career-high for games played on Monday night with a seven-rebound performance against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was his 18th game of the season. He’s averaging 3.1 points in 12.4 minutes played per game this year.