Welcome to A10 Talk’s Top 25 Player Countdown. Each day, we publish a new article counting down the 25 best players in the Atlantic 10 this past season. Today, we continue our countdown with #23 Yuta Watanabe.
With a nickname like “The Chosen One,” you’d think that pressure would get to a kid like Yuta and impact his performance; especially a kid who came to the United States from Japan barely knowing any English at all. But, you would be wrong. Yuta Watanabe has had every obstacle and possible distraction thrown his way, from high-pressure nicknames, to injuries, to just about everything in between. George Washington even took its international trip to Japan this past summer, playing every night in packed gyms and arenas with fans who had come just to see Yuta play back in his native land. Yet, he performed at a high-level all year long.
Yuta started off the season red-hot, averaging 13.4 points per game, he and reached the 18 point plateau twice: first against UMES and then against against UAB. Then, Watanabe suffered a calf injury that kept him out seven games before returning for A-10 conference play.
Watanabe really began to hit his stride down the stretch of the season, especially against Dayton, when he scored 18 points and gave us this gem of a highlight:
It's a Yuta Steal & Slam! pic.twitter.com/ZHDvKOAA9m
— GW Men's Basketball (@GW_MBB) March 5, 2017
Watanabe was also instrumental in the Colonials’ comeback win against Saint Louis in the Second Round of the A-10 Tournament, a game in which Yuta, once again, scored 18 points.
In the CBI Quarterfinals, Yuta scored a season-high 21 points, and despite GW’s loss, Watanabe was easily the best player on the court that night between GW and UIC.
Watanabe averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this past season. While his offensive numbers weren’t stellar, most of Yuta Watanabe’s game doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s been one of the best defenders in the Atlantic 10, as he made the All-Defensive team this past season.
Watanabe’s one of the best fundamental players in the Atlantic 10. Playing 90.4% of available minutes in conference play, Watanabe was an absolute workhorse. His 3.6% block percentage was the 11th best in the A-10, and his 85.7% free throw percentage ranked 7th. Perhaps one of the most underrated parts of Watanabe’s game is his ability to defend without fouling. He committed the 3rd fewest fouls per 40 minutes in 2016-17.
Watanabe is the definition of a team player. Though he doesn’t stand out as an amazing passer, he proved to be a good distributor last season, averaging 2.5 assists per game. His scrappy defense was the reason he made this list, and he’s come up clutch for his team on multiple occasions. Without Tyler Cavanaugh next season, Yuta Watanabe is going to have to be the man. Let’s see if he can fulfill the role of “The Chosen One.”
Previously: #24 De’Monte Buckingham