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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yuta Watanabe Brings Valuable Shooting Skills to Suns

Entering his sixth NBA season in a few months, veteran forward Yuta Watanabe has improved his 3-point shooting. It's an impressive part of his overall game.

As Brooklyn Nets teammates in the 2022-23 NBA season, Kevin Durant and Yuta Watanabe had plenty of opportunities to witness each other's chief strengths as basketball players.

For instance, Durant, a 13-time All-Star, is a pure scorer ― one of the best in NBA history. He's averaged 27.3 points per game in his career. 

After being traded by the Nets to the Phoenix Suns in February, Durant improved the Arizona team's championship hopes. But the Suns fell short, losing to the eventual-champion Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.

Now a retooled Suns roster, including free-agent signee Watanabe, will play for a new head coach, Frank Vogel, in 2023-24. Monty Williams was fired after the Suns' playoff exit. He moved on to the lowly Detroit Pistons as their new bench boss.

Durant along with Devin Booker and newcomer Bradley Beal give the Suns a dynamic "Big 3" as a building block for their championship aspirations. 

In the modern NBA, teams spread the floor and nearly every player is expected to be a 3-point shooting threat. The Golden State Warriors averaged a league-high 43.2 3-point attempts per game in 2022-23 and only the Chicago Bulls attempted less than 30 3-point shots per game (28.9).

Watanabe's 3-point shooting has improved since he made his NBA debut with the Memphis Grizzlies in October 2018. He shot a career-best 44.4% from beyond the arc last season while attempting a career-high 2.3 3-pointers per game. The Japanese forward also played a career-high 58 games for the Nets, averaging 5.6 points, another career-best number, in 16.0 minutes per game.

Yuta Watanabe, seen in an April 2023 file photo, is recognized for his outside shooting skills. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

New Contract, New Opportunity

Now entering his sixth pro season, the 206-cm Watanabe is set to earn his highest salary as an NBA player ($2.34 million USD, or ¥333.4 million JPY).

But before he gets acclimated to playing with his new Suns teammates during preseason training camp, Watanabe bid farewell to Brooklyn.

"Brooklyn, thank you for everything," Watanabe tweeted on July 5. "I'll always be grateful. Will miss you."

Durant and others have praised Watanabe's catch-and-shoot skills from the perimeter skills.

"Yuta has proven to be one of the best 3-point shooters in the league and has the size and ability to defend multiple positions," said James Jones, the Suns president of basketball operations and general manager.

On Tuesday, July 4, the Suns announced they had signed Watanabe along with forward Keita Bates-Diop, center Drew Eubanks and forward/center Chimezie Metu, all of whom were free agents.

"The additions of Keita, Drew, Chimezie and Yuta bolster our depth and each of them will help us in our pursuit of winning a championship," Jones said in a news release. "Each of these players possess unique skill sets that complement the rest of our roster and make us a more dynamic team."

Scouting Report on Watanabe

In its breakdown of Watanabe's overall skills, Hoopshype.com, a comprehensive news source on the NBA, penned this brief scouting report: "High-energy two-way swingman with good size at 6-foot-9… Solid rim-protector and can rack up steals thanks to relentless energy… Likes to hightail it in transition… Good speed when he gets room to get going… Decent athlete… Solid outside shooter but not a great one… Not overly quick… Average ball-handler… High-IQ player."

Former NBA forward Tom Meschery, who retired in 1971, believes Watanabe is a good fit for the Suns.

"I was happy to see Yuta get picked up by the Suns," Meschery wrote in an email. "He'll definitely stretch the floor for them plus he hustles on D, and the Suns were out of money, so he comes in at a bargain price."

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Korean Guard Lee to Play for B.League's SeaHorses

Veteran floor leader Dae Sung Lee has finalized a contract to play for the B.League's SeaHorses Mikawa for the 2023-24 season.

The SeaHorses announced they had signed Lee on Wednesday, July 5.

Lee, 33, averaged 18.1 points in 51 games for the Korean Basketball League's Daegu Kogas Pegasus in 2022-23. He was the 10-team KBL's top Korean scorer.

"I am very excited to embark on a new basketball journey, where I can both learn and grow," Lee said in a statement. "It is a great joy and honor to join the SeaHorses Mikawa, a team with a remarkable history and passionate fans."

The 193-cm guard added, "I am committed to giving my absolute best and making valuable contributions to the team and its dedicated fans."

The SeaHorses, who are coming off a 27-33 season, aim to reach the playoffs after a two-year absence under new bench boss Ryan Richman, a former Washington Wizards assistant coach. 

Richman replaced longtime coach Kimikazu Suzuki as the team's sideline supervisor this offseason.

Celtic FC's Daizen Maeda (left) in action against Rangers in a Scottish Premiership match on May 13 in Glasgow. (KYODO)

Soccer

Maeda to Remain with Celtic FC

Daizen Maeda has signed a new contract with defending Scottish Premiership champion Celtic FC, it was announced on Thursday, July 6. The deal is until 2027.

Maeda has played for Celtic since January 2022.

This past season he helped the Glasgow-based team win the Scottish Premiership, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup. In all competitions he scored 11 goals in 48 matches.

Celtic manager Brendan Rogers has lofty expectations for Maeda in the upcoming 2023-24 campaign.

"Daizen has many qualities that I like in a player ― high intensity, attack-minded and his work rate on and off the ball is exceptional," Rogers said of the former Yokohama F. Marinos standout in a team-issued statement. "He has played a key role in the team since he arrived, helping to secure yet another treble for the club so I am delighted we have been able to secure a new deal with him."

'Our Aim Will Remain the Same'

Maeda, 25, is hungry for more success as a team.

"Becoming a treble winner last season has been one of the highlights of my career but we must now prepare for next season," Maeda said, according to the Celtic website. "Our aim will remain the same, to work hard together with the manager to bring success to the club and our supporters."

Discussing his decision to sign a new contract with Celtic, Maeda said he's grown comfortable living in Scotland and working for the club.

"It is a very happy moment for me and my family," Maeda said. "Since we moved from Japan, everyone at the club and, of course, the supporters have been amazing and we are enjoying our life in Scotland.

"Celtic is a special club so I'm very pleased to extend my stay here. When I signed I said that my ultimate goal was to win the league and we have done so, twice."

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Japan's Sarina Koga spikes the ball against Italy in a 2023 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League match on July 3 in Bangkok. (VOLLEYBALL WORLD)

Volleyball

Japan Women Secure Spot in Nations League Quarterfinals

The Japan national team went 7-5 in the preliminary phase of the 2023 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League to advance to the quarterfinals in Arlington, Texas.

Japan is set to face the United States (10-2) on Wednesday, July 12. The tournament final is on Sunday, July 16.

Other participants in the quarterfinals include Brazil, China, Italy, Germany, Poland and Turkey.

Captain Sarina Koga leads Japan with 199 points in the tournament, including 165 attack points.

New York Mets starter Kodai Senga pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 5 at Chase Field in Phoenix. (AP/via KYODO)

Baseball

Mets' Senga Shines in Victory over Diamondbacks 

New York Mets starter Kodai Senga earned the seventh win of his first MLB season on Wednesday, July 5 to help lead his team to a 2-1 road victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher held the Mets to one run and four hits in eight innings and struck out a season-high 12 batters in a 107-pitch outing (72 strikes). He walked one batter.

The Mets scored two runs in the top of the ninth inning to rally past the Diamondbacks.

"With the All-Star break coming up, I knew I had a lot of days off and I wanted to go deep into the game," Senga told SportsNet New York (SNY) after the game. "To be able to do that, it was special."

Senga Added to NL All-Star Roster

Senga, who is 7-5 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 starts, was named to the National League All-Star team on Saturday, July 8. He has 113 strikeouts in 89⅔ innings.

The team's staff has been instrumental in helping prepare him to practice and play, Senga added. 

"I've been able to stay healthy and that's thanks to all the staff behind the scenes and the coaches that are using me in the right way," he was quoted as saying by SNY. "We still have half the season to go and I have to maintain that health."

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Yokohama DeNA BayStars pitcher Shota Imanaga faces a Yomiuri Giants batter on July 7 at Tokyo Dome. (ⒸSANKEI)

Impressive Performance for BayStars' Imanaga

Yokohama DeNA BayStars left-hander Shota Imanaga fanned 15 batters in seven innings in a game against the Yomiuri Giants on Friday, July 7 at Tokyo Dome.

Imanaga improved to 6-1 after yielding six hits and a run in the BayStars' 2-1 win. He didn't issue a walk and tossed 113 pitches.

In 2019, Imanaga went 13-7, earning the most wins in a single season of his NPB career, which began in 2016.

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Naoya Inoue (right) spars with Cesar Vaca Espinoza on June 26 at Ohashi Boxing Gym in Yokohama. (Courtesy of Ohashi Boxing Gym/via SANKEI)

Boxing

'Monster' Inoue Getting Ready for Title Fight with Fulton

Unbeaten superstar Naoya Inoue will make his super bantamweight debut on July 25 against Stephen Fulton, the WBC and WBO champion, at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.

As the date draws closer, Inoue is busy preparing for the title fight.

On June 26, he had two five-round sparring sessions at Yokohama's Ohashi Boxing Gym. He boxed against Mexican featherweight Bryan Acosta and Acosta's compatriot Cesar Vaca Espinoza, a bantamweight, Boxing News reported.

How did Inoue (24-0, 21 knockouts) evaluate his performances in the sparring sessions?

"I felt a good response [from sparring with them]" Inoue was quoted as saying by Boxing News. "True I paced myself a little too much in the first two rounds or so. 

"Mr Acosta is a type of boxer who comes out strong based on his physical strength, while Mr Espinoza is good at keeping his distance. So, I sparred with them at the pace of the two."

Horse Racing

Deep Impact Progeny Wins Irish Derby

Auguste Rodin, a 3-year-old son of racing legend Deep Impact, triumphed in the Irish Derby on July 2 at Curragh Racecourse in County Kildare, Ireland.

Jockey Ryan Moore, who has competed in Japan Racing Association races for more than a decades, guided Auguste Rodin to victory by 1½ lengths over Adelaide River in the 2,414-meter turf race.

It was Moore's first Irish Derby victory and the 15th win in the prestigious race for legendary trainer Aidan O'Brien.

"Aidan would tell you that it's about everyone else, and it is," Moore was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. "It's a big team effort and obviously there are so many people that he always thanks.

"But there's a reason why he has these records and I'm very lucky to have ridden for him for as long as I have. He's put me on these horses who are capable of winning these sorts of races. I'm just very grateful to be working for him."

Moore and Auguste Rodin also teamed up for a win in the Epsom Derby on June 3 at Epsom Downs in Surrey, England. 

Auguste Rodin is the first horse since Harzand in 2016 to win the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby.

Deep Impact died in July 2019, and Auguste Rodin is a part of his final crop of offspring.

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Miu Hirano in a June 2023 file photo. (KYODO)

Table Tennis

Hirano Notches Title-Clinching Victory over World No 1 Sun

Miu Hirano defeated Chinese opponent Yingsha Sun in the World Table Tennis' Contender Zagreb women's singles final on Sunday, July 2.

Hirano overcame a slow start to beat the world's top-ranked female player 4-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 14-12, 11-6 in Zagreb.

Sunday's triumph sealed the first WTT tournament title of Hirano's career. In addition, she ended a personal four-match career losing streak against Sun.

The 23-year-old, who represented Japan at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics two years ago and earned a silver medal in the women's team competition, was delighted with the outcome.

"I was well prepared to face Sun Yingsha in the final today, and I am very happy to win the match at the end," said world No 14 Hirano, according to the World Table Tennis website. "When I played Sun five years ago, I lost the match because I didn't handle the last key score well.

"This time I handled key points more reasonably."

Quote of the Week

"It's still two months away from the World Cup, and this is the first time the team played together since November last year. [But] it was always going to be a little bit sticky."

Jamie Joseph, the Japan men's rugby national team coach said, according to Kyodo News, after his team's 38-6 loss to the All Blacks XV (a squad comprised of New Zealand players) on Saturday, July 8 at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo. 


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven

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