By Lauren Shear
Rising junior Yuta Watanabe will never forget the moment he heard the exciting news that his Colonials would embark on a foreign tour of his home country in August of 2016.
When Watanabe found out about the team's trip he was surprised and overcome with excitement. "I told my parents right away," said Watanabe. "'We're coming to Japan.'"
Another year has past since that moment, and Watanabe's excitement for the trip has only grown. The last time he played in front of fans in his home country was as a member of the Japanese National Team at the age of 18. Before roughly 4,000 fans in Tokyo, Watanabe took the court against the Philippines in the summer of 2013.
Three years later, Watanabe will make his return; this time playing in front of sold out arenas in four cities across the country. Although his parents have seen him play at GW, this homecoming marks the first time Watanabe's older sister, Yuki, will see him don GW's buff and blue. The trip will also give Watanabe's friends and fans the opportunity to watch him play and see the growth he has made over the past couple years.
"My best friend contacted me and said that he's going to come to a game, and my high school coach told me that he's going to come," said Watanabe. "I've heard from a bunch of my friends who are going to come see me play. I'm so excited."
Playing against the Japanese National Team and the Ryukyu Golden Kings of the Basketball Japan (BJ) League will not be an easy task. Watanabe will be competing against the countrymen and National Team teammates he played with earlier this summer in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Serbia.
"It's going to be a little bit difficult; I was playing with them for almost two months," said Watanabe. "I've known them since I was 16 or 17 years old, so it will be a different experience playing against them."
Off the court, Watanabe looks forward to showing his teammates around the country. The team will visit Osaka, Tokyo, Hamamatsu, and Okinawa.
"I know lots of my teammates like Japanese food so I'm excited to take them to some good Japanese restaurants," said Watanabe. "Also, I'm excited to show them the Japanese culture. It's very different from American culture. And I love Okinawa - it is very beautiful, and one of my favorite places in Japan."
With seven newcomers joining the squad for the upcoming season, the trip also provides a unique opportunity for the team to build cohesion on and off the court before the season officially starts.
"I think it's very important for us," Watanabe said of the additional training time. "Right now, it gives us time to play. The new guys don't know how we play yet, so if we don't have this practice time, we would have to get it all done in October. We can't waste time. This trip is definitely going to stick us together."
As the team's departure is now 10 days away, Watanabe can't help but feel thankful to the Japanese Basketball Association (JBA), who is helping sponsor the trip, and to those at GW who've made the tour of his country possible.
"I really appreciate the opportunity," said Watanabe. "I would like to thank everybody."