Discovering Japan's NBA Prospects: 3 Rising Stars on the Horizon

In recent years, the NBA has seen excitement of having more and more Asian players. Especially from Japan, where basketball is a very popular sport; a manga based Slam Dunk animated film made a massive box office hit, basketball betting is one of the most popular categories in sports bookmakers, and when NBA preseason games tours to Japan, a huge crowd of people flock to matches.

Since Yuta Tabuse signed with the Phoenix Suns and became the first Japanese player to make the opening roster of the NBA in 2004, several Japanese players who have played in the games of NBA have been a strong inspiration to basketball players in their home countries.

Particularly, Rui Hachimura, currently playing for the LA Lakers, has successfully shown a strong presence as one of the key players in the NBA since being drafted in 2018. In this 23-24 season, he joined the LA Lakers from the Wizards where he was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. In the west coast team, he’s already recorded his 4th double-double in a season as of April 2024.

Even right at this moment, there are several Japanese players who are striving to play in the NBA, and some are actually within reach of their goals. Here is a look at some of the Japanese players who are expected to join the world’s most challenging and exciting basketball league in the near future.

Keisei Tominaga (Nebraska, PG)

University of Nebraska’s ace Keisei Tominaga, also known as the “Japanese Steph Curry”, is one of the most promising players to appear in the NBA in the near future. Born in Nagoya, Japan to a father who was also a basketball player,Tominaga has most recently played for the University of Nebraska and was named "Player of the Game" at the FIBA World Cup 2024, helping the Japan National Team qualify for the Paris Olympics 2024.

In 2023, Tominaga made an early entry into the NBA Draft, but it was announced that he immediately withdrew. In the following 23-24 NCAA regular season, he was a key contributor to the team's third-place finish. He also had an impressive performance in the conference tournament, but the team was defeated against the U of Illinois.

Known as a highly skilled 3-point shooter, the 23-year-old competed in the NCAA's 3- point contest on April 4 and snatched the trophy. Finishing his final season with the Huskers, there are high hopes that he will be drafted for the NBA in June.

Yuki Kawamura (B-Corsairs, PG)

Another point guard, Yuki Kawamura, is another player who is expected to make his appearance in the NBA in the near future.

After attending the sport's prestige, Tokai University, he joined the Yokohama B-Corsairs of Japan's professional league, B-League in 2022-23, where The PG took the league by storm. He eventually won the MVP, Best Five, and Rookie of the Year awards that season.

In June, 2023, Kawamura signed with Wasserman, a renowned sports agency, which represents Hachimura and Watanabe as well. This may be a sign that a path to the NBA is in scope for Kawamura.

Akira Jacobs (B-Corsairs, Forward)

Jacobs is another player with the Yokohama B-Corsairs like Yuki Kawamura. He was born in Yokosuka, Japan in 2004 but moved to the US soon after. After playing basketball as he grew up, he returned to the otherside of the Pacific in 2020 due to the Covid that ultimately made it difficult for him to continue playing basketball in the US.

The 19 years old was then youngest player ever to join B-Corsairs. He played for the Yokohama B-Corsairs U-18 team and was named tournament’s MIP after winning the B-league U18 International Cup 2022 in February 2022. Despite being 6’9” tall, he’s established a reputation as a good dribbler as well as a good 3-pointer.

In March 2022, he tried out for the NBA Global Academy held in Australia and ended up staying with the academy for two years during which he played for the Japan national team for FIBA U-19 World Cup 2023 in Hungary.

In the 2023-24 season, he made his first move to the US and signed with the University of Hawaii where he played as one of the key roles to bring the team to the Big West Semifinals. In an interview article during his time in NBA academy, he revealed his strong desire to play in the NBA that he mentioned as his ultimate goal.