Yuta Watanabe Talks About His “On-Gaeshi” Triple in Old Home Toronto
In Japanese culture, when someone you helped grow comes back and showcases his maturity, it is expressed in a term “On-Gaeshi” - or giving back out of gratitude.
That was exactly what Yuta Watanabe did when he made a 23-foot corner triple with just 15 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter of a game at Scotiabank Arena on December 16, 2022.
It was a magical moment of emergence of someone who Toronto helped grow from a mere camp participant to one of the legit shooters with killer instinct in the NBA.
Incredibly ironically, only he was playing on the wrong side. His Brooklyn Nets eventually won this game against Toronto Raptors 119-116 by Kyrie Irving's buzzer beater.
"I was able to show my former teammates, coaches and fans how much I had grown"
Yuta Watanabe is back in Japan on April 27 after his season came to an end when the Nets got swept by the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. He wasted no time and called for a Zoom meeting with local Japanese media right away in the next morning to share postseason thoughts and reflected the 2022-23 campaign.
When Watanabe was asked about the most impressive memories from this season, he said that big bucket against the Raptors was the highlight of what he called the best season in his 5-year career.
"I can think of a few moments, but the one that left the biggest impression on me was the game in Toronto, where I made a shot to put my team ahead with about 10 seconds left." he said.
"Multiple reasons for that, including the fact that it was just a few games in since I came back from injury. And of course, it was Scotiabank Arena where I played throughout the previous year. I know the people over there are Toronto Raptors fans. But I think I was able to deliver an “On-Gaeshi” in a way. In Toronto, the city where I owe so many obligations, I was able to show my former teammates, coaches and fans how much I had grown."
It was the moment that also proved Watanabe had earned by that time the respect he deserved from superstars on the Nets squad.
"Another thing that made me happy was that Kyrie went for a drive and I think, with his creativity, he would have been able to make a layup himself in that situation. Even though Scottie Barnes was there trying to block, I think he could have dodged him to finish himself. I was very happy that he found me in a wide open corner, and trusted me, passed the ball to me."
And he just did what he did - generated such an exciting moment - and a heartbreaker to the fans in Toronto - by hitting that shot to cap his 17 points on 6 of 7 shooting night including 3 of 4 from distance.
"In many ways, including the dramatic ending in which Kyrie beat the buzzer, that's the game that sticks in my memory."
Same free agent again, different confidence and determination
Watanabe's fifth season in the NBA was nothing short of praiseworthy as he registered career highs in games played (58), minutes played (16.0), points scored (5.6), field goal percentage (49.1%) and 3-point percentage (44.4%). In November, where Watanabe went beyond anyone's imagination by hitting 57.6 % from beyond the arc, then-teammate Kyrie Irving described his superb shooting and said “(Watanabe is) the best shooter in the world right now. You know, stats prove that he’s the best shooter in the best league in the world right now."
His shooting, hustle, smile and gentle demeanor made him an instant fan-favorite in the borough of Brooklyn just like he did in the northern city of Toronto in previous two seasons. Watanabe's name appeared at the top of the official NBA 3P% rankings leading up to the All-Star break. So, when he was a snub in 3-point contest, a lot of fans - not only in Japan but also north America and other regions - expressed their disappointment.
During this summer, Watanabe is again a NBA free agent. He says nothing in his future is for sure, including his availability for the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 with his uncertainty in this free agency.
But at this point in late April 2023, two things are different than the years in the past.
Kevin Durant showed his love and respect to Watanabe by replying to Watanabe's season-ending IG greets; "Great year yute…loved hooping with u my brother."
And he has a family to raise after his marriage last year. "That was something that made me feel like I had to work hard again this season." Watanabe said. "It's a bit of my baser self but since I live with someone that I need to support, now I really have to earn a good amount of money."
KD's message and his marriage seem be translated into confidence and determination in Watanabe's mind.
"I did have some ups and downs during this season. But without question, it was the best season I've ever had. I think I was able to convince my wife, and she helped me in many ways. I'm glad that we were able to finish our fulfilling season one together."
Watanabe admitted he didn't feel he could keep the 57% accuracy for the entire season. But he acknowledged it could have been doable for him to make 50% throughout the season.
Maybe next season. Let's see which team gives him the chance.