United sign Japan’s gun guard

After taming Team USA and starring on the G-League stage, Japanese international guard Yudai Baba is primed for an NBL stint with Melbourne United.

In a major boost for United’s back-court depth, Baba has been signed as a Special Restricted Player for the 2020-2021 season.

The 24-year-old has most recently been playing in the NBA’s G-League for the Texas Legends after he was signed in late 2019 to the Dallas Mavericks.

He played 41 games for the Legends before the G-League season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, it is on the world stage where Baba has earned the most attention following some impressive performances for his country at last year’s FIBA World Cup in China, including a standout 18-point showing against Team USA.

Baba has also faced the Australian Boomers on multiple occasions during the FIBA Asian Cup.

The dynamic 196cm guard is known for his athleticism but has recently been developing his three-point shot and a more aggressive mentality.

Japan’s Baba Yudai fights for the ball with Australia’s Matthew Hodgson during the 2017 FIBA Asian Cup. Picture: AFP Photo / Joseph EidSource:AFP

United coach Dean Vickerman believes Baba will provide the franchise with a spark both on and off the court.

“Baba is going to bring something different to our club that we haven’t seen before,” Vickerman said.

“He’s a unique talent, but we’re really encouraged by what we’ve seen.

“I think he’ll really have an impact in our league.

“Our back-court is going to be really competitive. Baba is a talented defensive player, so given that he will join Shea (Ili), Mitch (McCarron) and Chris (Goulding), the versatility that group will bring will allow us to mix it up and throw different looks at our opposition.”

Baba represented Alvark Tokyo in Japan’s B.League between 2017-2019, helping his team win back-to-back titles.

He also took out the Finals MVP honour in 2019, with a 12-point, 12-rebound performance.

United CEO Vince Crivelli is excited to bring Baba to the club, along with the attention he will draw from a different part of the world.

“We haven’t signed a Special Restricted Player before, so we are definitely excited to have signed Baba, and we’re looking forward to welcoming him to our club,” Crivelli said.

“He’s a star of the Japanese national side, so we hope that the Japanese fans can get behind Baba and Melbourne United as the NBL’s global popularity continues to grow. Building our international fanbase is important for our club’s development, and we believe that having a player such as Baba in our side will assist us in doing just that.”

Baba, currently in Tokyo, Japan, spoke of his enthusiasm to join his new teammates in Melbourne.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity, and I shall really work hard in order to contribute to the team in any way that is needed to help the team win,” Baba said.

“I know of Melbourne United’s excellent reputation and the record of coach Vickerman.

“I have followed the Australian NBL for several years and am looking forward to playing in such an elite league and bringing a piece of Japan to Australia.

“I have also heard really good things about the city and look forward to meeting the local Japanese basketball fans in Melbourne, too.”

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