Historically, Japan has not been known to be a basketball country but a star in other sports such as athletics, karate, and kendo. This trend is slowly changing with the growing infrastructure and the emergence of a new generation of Japanese basketball superstars.
The 2019 FIBA World cup has also shaped the way for this sport same as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that have been moved to 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Japanese bookmakers are also playing a significant role in promoting the game in the country. Basketball can never gain popularity without its stars in the country. These are the best Japanese basketball players of all time.
Rui Hachimura Hachimura is one of the new generations of professional basketballers that are helping to shape the game in Japan. He was born in Japan on February 8, 1998, of Beninese father and Japanese mother. He began playing basketball at the age of 13 and despite that late start, he went on to star at Gonzaga and became the first Japanese player to been selected in the first round of NBA draft.
Playing for the Washington Wizards as No. 9 overall pick, the Japan-born Hachimura is already showing the potential of being the most-successful product from Japan. Before the coronavirus suspended the season, Hachimura averaged 13.4 points, 6 rebounds, 1.7 asissts and 0.8 blocks on .478 from the field.
Now 22, Hachimura is the man to watch as Japan gears for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. He has made a name for himself in the basketball court, scoring an average of 22.1 points in the FIBA U-17 World Championships in 2014 that was held in Dubai, among other top basketball tournaments.
Yuta Watanabe In Japan, media headlines referred to this basketball star as “The Chosen One” or “The Special One”, due to his prowess in the game. At the age of 16 years, he started paying for the Japanese senior national team. He comes from a family of basketballers; his parents and his sister Yuki have been professional basketball players in Japan. Watanabe is also the first Japanese-born player to be awarded a Divison-1 basketball scholarship.
Watanabe is the second Japanese born basketball player to play in the NBA. He played sparingly in the 2019-20 season for the Memphis Grizzlies
Yasutaka Okayama Yasutaka Okayama was born on November 29, 1954. He was the first Japanese to be selected for the NBA draft in 1981, although he did not join them since he wanted to play in Japan. At both junior high school and high school, he was playing Judo. It was at Osaka University of Commerce that he started playing basketball. Okayama played for Japan between 1979 and 1986, before retiring in 1996.
For about 11 years, he was a veteran player. In 1996 he moved to America for further studies. Upon his return, he turned into a basketball coach.
Yuta Tabuse Tabuse was born on October 5, 1980 in a sporting family. His star in basketball started shining in Noshiro Technical High School, leading his team to the national championships for three years. During his high school days, he was popularly referred to as the “Michael Jordan of Japan.”
After high school, he joined Brigham Young University, where he became a pro basketballer. For years, Tabuse has played professional basketball in American leading clubs, including brief stints with the Phoenix Suns (four games), Toyota Alvark, Los Angeles Clippers and the New Jersey Nets.
He returned to Japan in 2008 by joining Link Tochigi Brex. In 2009, April, he was named as part of the 22 men squad in Japan’s national basketball team. Finally in 2010, his team emerged as the winner for the JBL Basketball League championship games.
J.R. Henderson J.R Sakuragi was born on October 30, 1976, and raised in Bakersfield as Milton J. Henderson Jr. He is an American-Japanese basketballer. He graduated from East High in 1994. His dad was the coach of the school’s basketball team, where he was a player. While at the University of California, he played college basketball. Sakuragi played for other teams in the U.S., including Bruins’ national championship team, All-Pac, Vancouver Grizzlies. It was in the Vancouver Grizzlies where he was picked for the 1998 NBA Draft as 56th in the second round.
In loyalty to his Japanese origin, he changed his name in July 2007 to Sakuragi, gaining Japanese citizenship and later joining Japan’s basketball national team. At this time, the national team was preparing for the Asia Championship.
Wat Misaka No list of the best Japanese basketball players would be complete without naming Wataru Misaka, who was the first person of color (non-Caucasian) player to play in the NBA. Misaka was a 5’7 Japanese-American point guard that won two championships at Weber Junior College (now Weber State University) while being named MVP of both the 1942 and 1943 teams as well as being honored as Junior College National Player of the Year.
Wat would move on to the University of Utah and led the team to the NCAA championship in 1944. Then after a three year stint in the army, Misaka would return to Utah and help the team win the NIT in 1947.
After his college career was over, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks with the first pick in the seventh round. Known as “Little Wat” the crowd loved Misaka. He would go on to play for the Knicks through the pre-season and play in three regular season games making Wat the first person of color to play in the BAA/NBA (the leagues would merge three years later).
Misaka’s career wouldn’t last very long when he was mysteriously cut by the team’s owner.
After his short stint in American professional basketball, Wat was offered a place with the Harlem Globetrotters but declined. Instead, he left basketball for good. Wat Mimsaka returned home to Utah and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering.