Welcome to A10 Talk’s Top Pre-Season Top 25 Player Countdown for the 2016-17 season. Each day, we’ll be publishing a new article counting down our best 25 players for the coming season. Today, we feature #20 Yuta Watanabe of George Washington.
What He’s Done
Yuta Watanabe has certainly made a name for himself over the last few years, especially in his native land of Japan, where he had been dubbed “The Chosen One” before he even had played his first college game. In his first two seasons in Foggy Bottom, Watanabe has averaged 7.9 PPG, and has become one of GW’s most consistent shooters, both from the field and from the line. Last season, he lead the Colonials with 40 blocks, and was the only player on the GW roster to average more than one block per game (1.1 BLK).
On March 5th last season, Watanabe set a new career-high with 22 points in a key game for the Colonials at Davidson. While the Wildcats would ultimately prevail over GW, it was a key performance that allowed GW to stay close. Yuta averaged 8.0 PPG during the NIT last season, including a 15-point performance in the opening round against Hofstra, which helped bring home the Colonials’ first ever postseason tournament championship.
What He’ll Do
There’s no denying that Yuta has had his ups-and-downs in his first two years at GW, but the good has far outweighed the bad. This upcoming season will be a real test for Yuta, as for the first time, he will have to carry a larger load of offense for the team, with the departure of McDonald, Larsen, Garino and Mitola. That hasn’t been an issue so far: during the Colonials’ tour of Japan this summer, Watanabe averaged 14.5 PPG and 6.8 REB over the course of four games. GW head coach Mike Lonergan has to feel more confident about Watanabe after putting up numbers like that while the spotlight of all of Japan was basically on him, and he never failed to put on a show for his “home fans.”
The real test will be can he replicate that performance against American teams, and specifically, the Atlantic 10. Yuta is not likely to lead George Washington in scoring as Tyler Cavanaugh is likely to take that accolade (averaging 16.8 PPG last year), but there are plenty of other roles for Watanabe to fill. The Colonials are losing 40.5 PPG in offense with the departure of their four seniors, and will need a consistent scorer that is also a three-point threat. While GW is not likely to get a Patricio Garino 2.0 any time soon, any player who can help fill the void left by Garino will only help the Colonials in the long run.
Ultimately, Yuta will need to put up numbers like he did in GW’s tour of Japan (14.5 PPG and 6.8 REB) for be in the running for A-10 Player of the Year. He has shown the potential over the summer, but can he follow through this season? Only time will tell.
Previously: #21 Jared Terrell