Reserve guard makes headlines in Japan

Updated: November 2, 2004, 12:00 AM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- A 5-foot, 9-inch point guard who mixes off-court humility with an oncourt flair for no-look, fastbreak passes is the first Japanese-born player to make an NBA roster.

Tabuse
Yuta Tabuse

Yuta Tabuse was told Monday that he would be one of 12 players suiting up for the Phoenix Suns in their season opener Wednesday night at home against the Atlanta Hawks.

"Hopefully, the Japanese people are excited about my position right now," Tabuse said after the Suns' practice.

The 24-year-old Tabuse was enveloped by about two dozen members of the Japanese media when the news broke. But it's an intrusion the polite playmaker accepts without complaint.

"It's good for me," he said, "and good for the Japanese people."

Tabuse made the team as the third point guard -- behind Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa -- after Howard Eisley was waived over the weekend.

"It's a big day for him," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "The guy's working his rear off, and he deserves it. I'm happy for him."

But D'Antoni said the decision was not a public relations move or a conscious effort to spread the internationalized NBA to yet another country.

"It's a nice story," D'Antoni he said of Tabuke's tale of success, "but for me as a coach, it really doesn't help me win or lose. I'm glad it happened for him. I like the kid, and everybody else does too, but we're trying to win basketball games."

Tabuse played two seasons for BYU-Hawaii, an NCAA Division II school. Last year he took part in the Denver Nuggets' training camp, but was cut before the start of the regular season. He played for the Suns in the Vegas and Rocky Mountain Review summer leagues.

Yuta Tabuse
Rocky Widner/Getty ImagesTabuse made the Suns as the third point guard -- behind Steve Nash and Leandro Barbosa.

"A true point guard is hard to find," Nash said. "He had a really good summer from all accounts, and he worked hard this preseason to really find a spot on this team."

In Japan, this is a monumental story, said Yasushi Kikuchi, who covers U.S. sports for the newspaper Hochi Shimbun.

"He's going to be as big as when Ichiro came here," Kikuchi said. "He was a legend when he played for his high school team, because they never lost. He's the most famous basketball player in Japan."

Tabuse thought the Ichiro comparison went a bit too far.

"I'd say Ichiro is bigger than me," Tabuse said. "He's the most famous athlete in Japan. But I'm glad to be like Ichiro and [Hideo] Nomo for basketball in Japan."

The Suns have marveled at how well the soft-spoken Tabuse has handled the constant attention of the Japanese media.

"He's got a tremendous responsibility to his country to be a pioneer," Nash said. "It's tremendous, I think for everybody, to have that Japanese influence in our league."

Tabuse said his favorite player was Magic Johnson, and that's where those no-look passes came from. Quickness and skill must overcome Tabuse's severe lack of height in the towering world of the NBA.

"He's got to use that to his advantage," Nash said. "His quickness in the open court, where he can negate his size, it's very important for him, and he's very good at it. He's got to develop that and continue to use that to exploit his opponent."

Tabuse will see little playing time, but that hardly matters now. His parents flew from Japan on Monday to be on hand for Wednesday's opener, when he will hear his name and the cheers when the roster is announced. He said he will try to savor the moment.

"Everyone is big and fast in the NBA," Tabuse said. "But I believe the most important thing is my heart, and what I'm thinking. It's fun to play against NBA players."

He said he would spend only a little time celebrating his milestone.

"I feel good now," he said. "But I need to play hard tomorrow. I need to play hard every day."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press