One-on-One with Yuta Tabuse

Posted: July 12, 2004

Following the first workout of the Phoenix Suns' rookie/free-agent camp on Saturday, each of the 15 hopefuls fighting for a spot on the club's summer league roster took turns getting measured. One-by-one they filed into the Suns' weight room and placed their "back and heals against the wall, toes up," while assistant athletic trainer Mike "Anchor Man" Elliott checked their height.

"Can I wear my shoes?" joked Yuta Tabuse, whose name might sound familiar to you. Arguably the most famous Japanese basketball player in the world today, the 5-9 guard drew a healthy dose of media attention last October as a participant in the Denver Nuggets' 2003 training camp. Although he didn't make the final cut, the 23-year-old hasn't given up on his goal of becoming the first native of Japan ever to play in the NBA.

Suns.com caught up with the "clever little player," as Suns assistant coach Marc Iavaroni called him, and talked to him about his participation in camp, his height disadvantage and his childhood dream of playing NBA basketball.

Suns.com: What does this opportunity mean to you to be in camp with the Suns?

Tabuse: I’m so excited to play with those guys, especially a good point guard in Leandro. It’s good. My agent helped me a lot and I got the chance to play. I played last preseason in Denver. Our first two games in the preseason matches, Denver played against Phoenix. So maybe the (Suns) coaches saw me. That’s why they knew already about me and invited me to camp, I guess.

Suns.com: You also played with the Mavericks during summer league last year. What do you think it’s going to take for you to take that next step and make a roster for the regular season?

Tabuse: Oh man, that’s my goal, to make the final roster. As I play against NBA players, it’s tough, a tough challenge for me. But as I play against those guys, I feel like I want to make my dream more and more. It motivates me more than before. Especially like (in Denver), I had a chance to play against Earl Boykins, who is my same size in Denver. So it was good for me, because we are same size and he has played in NBA for a couple years now.

Suns.com: Did you learn a lot from Earl?

Tabuse: Yeah. I asked a couple questions about how can I play, how can I move, pass, everything. Whenever I had a question, I asked it to him. He told me some cheating stuff (laughs), like how to bump players when the referee doesn’t see.

Suns.com: Tell us about playing with Dennis Rodman in the ABA this past season.

Tabuse: Oh, he was cool (laughs). I saw where he’s crazy, but he’s a professional on the court. He did what he has to do on the court. He got 14 rebounds on his first game, which is amazing. I was glad to play with him. He works hard. He works real hard. He paid attention in practice and in the game. I was pretty surprised.

Suns.com: Any odd or funny stories you can share about Dennis?

Tabuse: Oh, his comments for the media were kind of crazy (laughs). But when I talked to him, he was just like normal person.

Suns.com: How would you describe your game for fans who haven’t had a chance to see you play?

Tabuse: Well, you know, obviously I am small, so I can run the court up and down. I keep pushing the ball, kick to good shooters and good big men. And when I’m open, I take the shot. That’s my job.

Tabuse: (Laughs) Yeah, trying to be.

Suns.com: You received a lot of media attention during your time with Denver last year. What was that like for you, having reporters and cameras following you all around?

Tabuse: You know why, I’m first guy (from Japan) to play in the NBA summer league, training camp, so they are paying attention to me. It is good for me to have that attention. They make me want to make that dream more. I want to play in the NBA, so I appreciate them.

Suns.com: You obviously have a lot of fans back home, as well. What does that mean to you to have so many people pulling for you?

Tabuse: You know, if I make the NBA, maybe then Japanese basketball is getting popular and bigger and bigger and bigger. So for them I want to make my dream. For me and for them. I want to be a pioneer, a pioneer like (L.A. Dodgers pitcher) Hideo Nomo, the first Japanese baseball player in the major leagues. I want to be like him, you know?

Suns.com: How long has this been a dream of yours? When did you first start to think about playing in the NBA?

Tabuse: When I was 8 or 9 years old I started to watch the Lakers and the Pistons. Since then I started thinking, “Oh man, the NBA’s cool.”

Suns.com: Who were your favorite players growing up?

Tabuse: I used to like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. They are my heroes, point guards, you know. Magic Johnson, his passes were awesome and Isiah Thomas, he is good at ball handling. He’s small but he can attack the basket, which is neat for me.

Suns.com: Do you remember when the Phoenix Suns opened the 1990-91 season with a couple games against the Utah Jazz in Japan?

Tabuse: YEAH! YEAH! (Big smile) I watched it on the TV, every game, man. Yeah, yeah! You guys played in the Yokohama Arena. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was exciting. That was exciting! That was good for Japanese people because they don’t have a chance to see NBA, the real NBA (in person). So that was a good, good chance for us.

Suns.com: It featured a match-up of a couple more top point guards, Kevin Johnson vs. John Stockton.

Tabuse: Yes. And Hornacek, Tom Chambers, against Stockton and Karl Malone. That was a good match.

Suns.com: Now you’re sitting in the same locker room that KJ and Chambers dressed in years ago.

Tabuse: Oh yeah! That’s amazing to me. I can’t believe it. I’m glad to be here.

Suns.com: You made a joke when you were being measured in the weight room. Do you ever wish you were a couple inches taller?

Tabuse: Yeah, I wish. But since I played with Earl Boykins, the size doesn’t matter. What’s most important is the heart. That I learned from him, so it’s okay.

Suns.com: How far away do you think you are from making it to the NBA?

Tabuse: I am not sure. I am not sure. I cannot tell that. But hopefully I am getting closer.