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Friday, April 30, 2010

Brex's Tabuse not ready to give up dream of making return to NBA


Staff writer

For Yuta Tabuse, there is no reason to store his basketball shoes on the shelf, because he has no time to relax — not even during the offseason.

News photo
Hoop dreams: Point guard Yuta Tabuse has hopes of once again playing in the NBA. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The 173-cm point guard guided the Link Tochigi Brex to their first Japan Basketball League title two weeks ago, a three-game sweep in the title series against the two-time reigning champion Aisin SeaHorses.

But Tabuse doesn't have time to rest on his laurels. His focus will be on fitness in the weeks to come.

Tabuse, the first and only Japanese-born man to have played in the NBA when he was with the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season (he played four games before being released in December), is again aiming to return to the world's premier hoop league.

"As in the previous years, I'll be working on earning a chance to participate in summer leagues and tryouts for the NBA," Tabuse said in an interview with The Japan Times before a public viewing party event in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward last week. "Also, there will be national team activities, too. So I'll be doing both at the same time."

Tabuse was appointed the inaugural NBA Japan ambassador during the event.

The Yokohama native, however, doesn't want to experience a repeat of last season's disappointing summer.

After wrapping up his first campaign with the Brex last spring, Tabuse participated in the Japan national provisional squad's workouts for the first time in several years. But a few weeks later, he opted to leave Japan because he received an invitation to attend a Dallas Mavericks mini-camp.

The move didn't pay off, though.

Tabuse's injured right heel didn't enable him to make a strong impression at Mavs camp.

"I was absolutely sorry about it," Tabuse said of the exit from the national team. "But I was blessed with a chance to do what I wanted to (do). So hopefully, taking care of not getting hurt, I want to be persistent in challenging (the NBA) because not that many people have that kind of opportunity."

Tabuse added that other Japanese talents shouldn't be shy about leaving their native country and testing their skills overseas.

"If there are opportunities, they should actively go," he said. "I believe that they can improve their individual skills and then they will know what they're lacking. Unless you take that action, you don't get that."

Tabuse turns 30 in October, and a number of people believe his window of opportunity to return to the NBA is small.

But Tabuse said that his physical condition hasn't declined and that there are no signs of his physical skills eroding, either. In fact, he believes the opposite is true.

He thinks he's gotten even stronger and more consistent, thanks to his intense body-core training.

"It's really become the foundation of my body," Tabuse said of the training. "My body can stay stable and I don't have to use too much power when I take shots. Also, I can hang in there when I get off-balance."

Indeed, it's safe to assume that the fruits of his labor — intense training gym workouts — helped ignite the Brex's successful run during the 2009-10 season.

Although he missed nearly 20 games due to chronic heel pain early in the regular season, Tabuse led the team to second place with a 27-15 record.

In the postseason, Tabuse and his teammates rose to the challenge. Link Tochigi rallied from a 19-point deficit to win the decisive third game of the semifinals against the Panasonic Trians, and exhibited similar comebacks in the finals as well.

Tabuse, who averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 assists (fourth in the league) and 1.96 steals (third) in the regular season, was clearly a huge part of it.

"We were saying that we were going to win even by one point, no matter how much we would get behind," the playoff MVP said. "We played games that we came back from all season, but we fought through every time, not giving up."

As a schoolboy phenom, Tabuse gained fame by winning title after title at Noshiro Technical High School of Akita Prefecture. After plying his craft in the NBA Development League for a few years after his release from the Suns, he decided to return to Japan to play in Tochigi two years ago.

At the time, critics said that move wouldn't benefit him in his quest to return to the NBA. To his credit, Tabuse said he never thought about whether his decision was right or wrong.

But when it came down to the fan base in Utsunomiya, the franchise home of the Brex, he could say it was rewarding to join the club.

"The fans' cheers have just been amazing," he said. "In that respect, there was no doubt that I felt good about coming down there. I had never had that feeling in Japan and never even imagined it."

Tabuse has extended his contract with Link Tochigi for the next two years, including a team option for the second year. It includes an escape clause that he can leave the Brex if there is an offer from an NBA team.

After all, it's a dream worth pursuing.



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