Men’s basketball alumnus forward Yuta Watanabe has signed a standard NBA contract with the Toronto Raptors, according to a tweet from the Toronto Raptors Monday.
Watanabe is the first Colonial to sign a contract with the NBA in four years and is the second Japanese-born player ever to play in the NBA. The new contract secures his spot on the Raptors’ 15-man roster.
Watanabe has averaged 13.4 minutes, 4.0 points and 3.3 rebounds across 39 games so far this season. He is currently shooting at a .488 clip from the field and .400 clip from the beyond the arc. Watanabe scored a career-high of 21 points in a 113-102 victory over the Orlando Magic April 16.
Prior to his time with the Raptors, Watanabe played with the Memphis Grizzlies under a two-way contract after going undrafted out of GW. He shot at a .353 clip from the field and a .208 clip from the three-point line to average 9.7 points a game.
“This is what I’ve been working for,” Watanabe said during a press conference Tuesday. “I’ve been very happy. I’m motivated more than ever, and ready to work.”
Watanabe was the first Japanese-born basketball player to secure an NCAA Division I scholarship under the GW basketball program. He is also the first Colonial to ink a fully guaranteed NBA contract since forward Tyler Cavanaugh signed a multi-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks in 2017.
As a Colonial, Watanabe was named Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year in the 2017-18 season. He was selected twice for the A-10 All-Defensive team in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and was the recipient of both the Patricio Garino Defensive Award and the Mike Brown MVP Award in 2018.
He averaged 42.5 percent from the field in 134 games with GW while amassing 197 assists, 147 blocks and 93 steals for the Colonials.
Watanabe comes from a family with a long history in basketball. His mother, Kumi, played for the Japanese Women’s National Team and his sister, Yuki, played for Aishin AW of the Women’s Japan Basketball League.
“My mom was almost crying,” Watanabe said. “I told my mom ‘This is just the beginning’. We are really happy and they are very proud of me, so I’m very happy.”
Watanabe competed for the Japanese national team in 2013, placing third in the East Asian Basketball Association Championship for Men. He also played in the Olympic Qualifiers for the national team in 2016.
Watanabe has been dubbed as “the chosen one” or “the special one” by Japanese media. There has been a recent spike in sales across Japan of Watanabe-based merchandise, according to an article by Sports Illustrated.
“What I have to do won’t change, I gotta do what I’ve been doing,” Watanabe said. “Just be out there, bring a lot of energy, play defense, grab rebounds, run some offense, be aggressive, stuff like that. You know next year is not guaranteed yet, so I’ve got to keep showing what I can do.”