Yuta Watanabe: Forward bringing Toronto Raptors influence to Japanese National Team ahead of Olympics | NBA.com Canada

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Toronto Raptors forward Yuta Watanabe and the Japanese Senior Men’s National Team are set to participate in the upcoming Olympic Games as the host team.

As one of two active NBA players on Japan’s roster (the other being Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura), Watanabe is a key figure for the national team, both with his on-court play and his leadership on – and off – of the floor.

Watanabe, who just wrapped his first season as a member of the Raptors organization, has clearly taken on the type of leadership role demonstrated by some of the team’s veterans and more established players.

Per Raptors Info Japan on Twitter, Watanabe shared that he picked up major elements of being a leader during this past season with the Raptors, saying “I know when someone speaks to the players on the court from the bench like that, it helps them play better. (With) the Raptors, guys like Kyle [Lowry] and Fred [VanVleet] have always talked to us and I’m going to do that with the Japan national team and continue it.”

Watanabe began his first season with the Raptors on a two-way contract but quickly played himself into a guaranteed deal, finishing the season with averages of 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds over 50 games (four starts), including a career-high 21 points in a mid-April win over the Orlando Magic.

Now, he looks to continue his growth and improvement as a player with the Japanese National Team, which is playing in its first Olympics since the 1976 Games in Montreal, Quebec.

Japan has a tough draw at the Olympics, landing in Group C along with Slovenia, Spain and Argentina. The Japanese Senior Men’s National Team opens up play on July 26, when it faces Spain before returning to action to face Luka Doncic and the Slovenian Men’s National Team.

Japan closes group play when it faces Argentina, another team looking to medal in Tokyo.

Stick with NBA.com for more updates on Watanabe and his performance with Japan at the upcoming Olympic Games.

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