Yuta Watanabe is a 6’9” small forward from George Washington University ... and Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant and now models his game after Joe Ingles.
Ten days ago, he traveled to New York and the HSS Training Center to work out for the Nets. In a thoughtful interview with NBA Japan, Watanabe talked about what it was like working out for the Nets ... and meeting Jeremy Lin, one of the NBA’s two Asian players.
First of all, it was long, starting at 7 a.m. with psychological tests.
“It was serious,” Watanabe said, with nearly 300 questions ... and given while the day’s prospects were eating breakfast. Then, there were the physical tests which in comparison, Watanabe said, were “not bad.”
There were tests of athleticism: running, jumping, strength and agility. Then, it was on to the workout.
“The workout is always six people,” he noted. “It was the same for every team: two guards, two forwards, two inside players, I participated as one of the forwards. Because there were four athletes who had been called by NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, I think that it was quite a high level group.”
On hand were Watanabe, Grayson Allen (Duke); De’Anthony Melton (USC); Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State); Chimezie Metu (USC) and Yante Maten (Georgia) The Nets like other teams mix-and-match during the workout, shuffling lineups. All but Watanabe and Maten worked out at the Combine.
Watanabe, who’s not projected to be drafted on June 21, thought he did well expect in one area, the shooting drills. “I think it was pretty good except for that.”
“I suppose it was pretty good I thought,” he told NBA Japan. “My defense showed some good points in both 1-on-1 and 3-on-3 drills. I was aggressive with the shot and I hit it when open in offense, and I was able to drive. However, only the last shooting drill was terrible...
“When I was on 1-on-1 or 3-on-3 I hit difficult shots with a high probability, so if you see only that, the success rate in the actual workout should have been high.”
Asked what he wanted to show the Nets, Watanabe said, defense. He thought he did well in both the 1-on-1 and 3-on-3, but admitted the workout was odd. It was six guys trying to impress as individuals.
“There was absolutely no thinking ‘for the team.’,” he said, noting that ultimately, “I could not afford to think ‘I want them to do a good play,’ it was my feeling that I had to do my best.”
He also admitted he was nervous and didn’t sleep well the night before.
“I was surprised at myself, but I could not sleep at all the night before,” he admitted. “Although I slept asleep, I woke up around 3 o’clock and I had to get up about three and a half hours later I was about to sleep. After that I could not sleep at all. My heart suddenly beat so fast, which was something I had never had experienced before. Since I was working out for the first time, I knew I’d be nervous, but I was surprised at the level of tension.”
Afterwards, he did speak with fellow senior Allen, who he described as “a good guy.”
“He talked to me after workout. in the 3-on-3, he and I were on the same team for a long time. His shooting was amazing.”
Finally, there were interviews with Sean Marks, Trajan Langdon and an assistant coach he didn’t identify. He said Marks and he talked “for a while,” and Marks told him that he had done “really good ... I think I left a good impression.”
Before leaving HSS, he spoke as well with Lin which he said led DeMarre Carroll to good naturedly quip “today is Asian Day” Watanabe thought it was funny.
In the end, it was a full day.
“I went there at 7 o’clock in the morning and it was 4 o’clock in the evening before I came back. It took up a longer time than I thought. It took almost a day.”
Bottom line, said Watanabe, the workout was a very different experience from his college years.
“At the college I have been on big stages such as the NIT Tournament Final and the A10 Tournament but until now I have always had coaches and teammates ... people I trusted were around me, the tension was not such a thing.”
Now, however, Watanabe realizes this is the big time. With none of the mock drafts listing him first or second round, his best shot at the NBA is through an invitation to summer league or training camp ... where proving himself will start all over again.