Friday, December 14, 2001
Jordan of JapanYuta Tabuse is big in his homeland, the "Michael Jordan of Japan," as one teammate called him.
living up to nickname
Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-8 point guard,
has helped BYUH to a 6-2 start
By Jaymes Song
The star point guard from Yokohama is considered his country's best NBA prospect and was offered major endorsement deals and a pro contract. He twice made winning baskets on the junior national team this year, over rival South Korea, no less.
Still, Tabuse knew there was one place he needed to go to improve his skills: a U.S. college. So he ended up at Brigham Young-Hawaii.
"I came for the experience and challenge in America," he said.
In eight games this season, the 5-foot-8 freshman is averaging seven points, 4.8 assists and 1.6 steals for the Seasiders. He has guided the Division II team to a 6-2 start with clutch plays, including a 17-footer with four seconds left for a 74-73 victory over Alaska-Anchorage on Dec. 2.
But it's his potential -- and his play before this season -- that made him a star back home.
Japanese media have followed Tabuse around campus and to road games. Some visitors from Japan have dropped by campus, to watch him practice and to take pictures.
He's also got his own section of Japanese students who cheer for him at every game.
Tabuse said the attention is embarrassing at times because he's so shy. He said he can imagine what Seattle Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki must go through.
"Sometimes, they want pictures and stuff before the game when I'm trying to focus," Tabuse said. "That bothers me. After practice, or on free time, that's fine."
His star status began in high school, where he averaged 20 points, 10 assists and four steals a game as a senior. He led Noshiro Kogyo High School to three straight national titles.
He starred on Japan's junior national team this summer but then ran up against the U.S. team led by UCLA's Jason Kapono and Duke's Carlos Boozer and Chris Duhon.
"We lost by 30 points. They killed us," Tabuse said. "We couldn't get rebounds on offense or defense. They were taller, bigger and stronger. Everything better than us."
At the tournament, in Saitama, Japan, barricades were set up to keep hoards of teenage girls from rushing the floor to get at Tabuse.
So why is he so popular in his country?
"I think he's the Michael Jordan of Japan," BYUH center Pablo Broering said.
Tabuse had another explanation.
"Because I'm good-looking," he said, joking. "I don't know why. Maybe because basketball players are usually tall, right? But I'm small. So maybe people like to watch me play."
BYU-Hawaii coach Ken Wagner said Tabuse is an excellent passer, ball handler and shooter. He's also unbelievably quick.
"Even though his stats haven't been great the first eight games, he's been real good, real solid," said Wagner, who recruited Tabuse after being referred by a friend in Japan. "He's done what he's needed to do for our team.
"He's real easy to coach because he works hard and does the things you ask. He has the potential, even though he's short, to dominate the game."
The 21-year-old Tabuse is playing his first season with BYU-Hawaii even though it's his third year at the school.
He sat out his first year because of NCAA foreign-player regulations and his second year because of a back injury, all the while sharpening his English language skills. When he arrived at the school, all he knew was "hello."
Even though an entire nation hopes Tabuse becomes the first Japanese player in the NBA, he acknowledges it's a long shot.
"I just want to enjoy basketball," he said, adding that he would like to eventually play professionally in Japan.
Wagner said Tabuse would have trouble making the NBA, simply because of size alone. But he doesn't count him out.
"He came to the U.S. because he wanted to be challenged and see how far he can go," Wagner said. "I think he's going to be a great player. It's interesting to see how high a level he can play."