Japanese basketball star has shot at playing in 2020 Summer Olympics

Ryo Tawatari’s ’17 dream job upon leaving Dominican includes the 2020 Olympics

The Penguins’ 5-foot-11 point guard from Tokyo, who graduated with his Bachelor of Arts degree in May, learned on August 16 that he has been selected to play for the Japanese U24 national team as it prepares for the 2017 Summer Universiade basketball tournament in Taipei in September. He also has signed a professional contract to play for the Yokohama B-Corsairs in the Japanese Basketball League. If he continues to develop the way he progressed as a leader and facilitator on the court at Dominican, Ryo believes he has a chance to play in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China and, at the age of 27, play for Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympiad.

“That’s the main reason that I’m going back home,” Ryo explains.

A transfer student from Ohlone College in Fremont, Ryo felt welcomed at Dominican the instant he first started working out with the Penguins basketball team in Conlan Center.

“My teammates are good teammates. Good friends,” Ryo says. “My first impression was `Oh my God. These guys are awesome. They are like family.’ ”

The players believe Ryo’s good natured personality made his transition into Dominican smoother. Teammate Josh Ramirez ‘17, a Communications major from Ayala High School who traveled to the Philippines this summer on a youth mission aimed at helping children from broken homes, likens Ryo’s contribution to the University to one of the Dominican’s ideals -- Service.

“Dominican allowed Ryo to grow not only as a basketball player, but as an overall student-athlete,” says Ramirez, an NABC Academic Honors Court recipient who has signed a contract to play basketball professionally with the Panteras de Aguascalietes in Mexico. “He made connections with internships, faculty, and students that he wouldn't have received unless he had come to Dominican.”

On the court, Ryo started all 26 games for the Penguins last season and 52 of 54 games in his Dominican career. He was first in the Pacific West Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1 per game) and third in assists. He led the team in that category in each of the past two seasons. Ryo, who scored a career-high 19 points in a game at Humboldt State last season, credits head coach Booker Harris and assistant coach Rich Mendoza for helping him grow as a point guard and into his role as a team captain.

“I learned more about leadership and what is expected of a point guard for a team,” Ryo says. “I’m proud of my work ethic and dedication. That’s how I measure respect and give respect.”

The respect was mutual, according to his coach.

“Ryo’s work ethic and drive to be the best college basketball player he could be was apparent,” Harris says. “He led by example and during his time he learned how to communicate with teammates knowing the approach that each one would respond to.  I was impressed that he learned the language/terminology and was able to get everybody on the same page with the coaches.”

Brad Van Alstyne, chair of the Communication and Media Studies department, said Ryo emerged as a leader in the classroom as well.

“He had a quiet strength about him and really became an asset, especially by relating his experiences and sharing his cultural knowledge,” Van Alstyne says. “I always feel fortunate to have international students in my classes and call upon them to share their experiences. Ryo was very valuable in that role and really broadened the cultural lens of my students through sharing his experiences with the things we study, especially the media.”

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Ryo, a Communication and Media Studies major, is utilizing the skills he developed in the classroom to conduct and give interviews. He plans to pursue a career in radio following basketball.

The son of Masaru Tawatari, a legendary high school coach in Japan, Ryo started playing for national teams in Japan at the age of 14. In 2009, he scored a game-high 28 points in a game versus China in the inaugural FIBA Asia Championships.  In July, he and his U24 teammates played in the 39th annual William Jones Cup in Taiwan.


June 29, 2017