A journey to the NBA doesn’t come with a road map. For the chosen few, they fast-track their way to stardom. But those players are far and few between.

Most players, though, must fight the good fight to make it.

Japan’s Yudai Baba (YOU-DYE Bah-Bah) is just starting that trip that he hopes will land him with the Mavericks someday.

Yudai is a 6-4 guard who the Mavericks snagged after he proved to be as good as anybody in the Japanese league and played well in the FIBA World Cup.

He has no guarantees with the Mavericks, although there appears to be an excellent chance that he will be with the G-League Texas Legends in Frisco if he doesn’t make the Mavericks’ squad.

Yudai knows what that means. And he’s OK with it. The main thing he hopes to accomplish during the Mavericks’ training camp is to get used to better competition.

“They saw me at summer league and they said: come to training camp,” Yudai said in broken, but improving English. “I enjoy this camp. Everyone has skill here. It’s good experience for me.”

And he has decided not to return to Japan, at least not for basketball reasons. He’s accomplished all he can there.

“I decided to go to the Legends,” he said. “I needed to step up.”

The Mavericks already like what they have seen out of Yudai, who has a one-speed motor – ultra-fast. He has to work on his NBA 3-pointer since he’s used to the shorter international 3-point arc. But you can’t put a price tag on what he’s learning and how fast he’s learning it.

And, of course, there’s the not-insignificant aspect of picking up English and the drastically different culture here.

“I saw him play in the summer league and I’ve seen him for three days here,” coach Rick Carlisle said before the Mavericks took a rest day on Friday. “I love the way he plays. He’s very energetic, got a great enthusiasm for the game and he’s a very knowledgeable player. And he’s the kind of guy that teammates like to play with – very athletic and very strong. And he knows the game.

“He needs to keep (working) on his shooting range. And being from Japan and a different language, he has to keep learning the terminology of the American game and he’s doing a very good job so far.”

Yudai has an interesting basketball background. He went to Japan’s version of middle school with Rui Hachimura, who was two grades behind Yudai. Hachimura was drafted ninth overall in June by the Washington Wizards after a strong three-year career at Gonzaga.

Yudai averaged 9.2 points and 3 assists in the FIBA World Cup. In the summer league, he averaged 4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12 minutes per game for the Mavericks. He played four games and the Mavericks went 3-1.

The Toyama, Japan, native helped Alvark Tokyo win their second consecutive B-League title last season by averaging 10.8 points, 4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.5 steals in 64 games. He was MVP of the league finals

The NBA, of course, is a different game. And Yudai knows that his shooting range is not the only thing that must improve.

“It’s physical,” he said of the Mavericks’ training camp. “Japan is not physical. I can easily drive or shoot. I can’t here. Every shot is contested. I’m ready for it.”

And, of course, it’s just a different side of the world that Yudai has to get acclimated to. He’s also followed by a small group of Japanese reporters and photographers who are chronicling his time with the Mavericks. He’s a big story in his homeland.

“The culture is (different). It’s noisy. Japanese will be quiet. Here it is crazy. Music. And lots of yelling.”

One thing that Yudai has been good with is the food in Dallas. He said he’s had no trouble finding Japanese food.

“You have lots of Japanese chefs here, so it’s comfortable for me here,” he said.

Yudai, like the other handful of players that are trying to make the final roster, knows the odds are long that he will make the Mavericks.

But he will get plenty of chances to show his skills during the preseason.

“If you’re in an NBA camp, you got a chance to make it,” Carlisle said. “Just ask me. I was in an NBA camp 35 years ago and nobody thought I had a chance. Miracles happen.

“This guy is a professional player. If he doesn’t make the team with us, he’ll certainly be a good player in the G-League. He plays with an energy and enthusiasm that’s infectious. He goes hard and he’s rugged and plays both ends of the floor. He’s the kind of guy you’d always want on your team.”

Yudai, having done all he can do in Japan, is taking all this as a new adventure.

“I’m ready for the Legends or whatever comes,” he said.

Twitter: @ESefko


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