PHOENIX — In a shrunken NBA world, where it's no longer a big deal to see players from China, Poland or Africa, few players can be considered exotic any more.
Yuta Tabuse can be considered exotic.
Tabuse (pronounced Ta-BOO-say), who just completed summer-league action for the Suns, is trying to become the first Japanese player to crack the NBA.
The Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce can only hope his next step toward that goal will come with the Suns.
In Japan, Tabuse is similar to a rock star. In NBA-oriented publications there, cover photos of such players as Allen Iverson are edited out and replaced with those of Tabuse.
Media contingents from Japan have followed his moves so far: to Utah last year, where he played for Dallas' summer-league team; to Denver's training camp (he nearly made the Nuggets' opening night roster); back to Las Vegas and Utah for more summer-league play this year.
More surely would follow if the Suns invite him to training camp at Northern Arizona University.
Much more important would be the effect he would have on Japanese basketball if he made the NBA. How big would this be back home?
"It's going to be crazy if I make the team," said Tabuse, who speaks English fluently. "It will be like Hideo Nomo making the major leagues.
"Even playing in the summer, it's kind of amazing for Japanese basketball."
Tabuse is quick, hustles and throws some great passes. But he's still adjusting to the NBA game and acknowledges he must continue to improve his shot and one-on-one defense.
Tabuse, asked if he's the best player in his country, thought for a moment and said, "Best? I can't say. Most famous."
Tabuse might be good enough to command guaranteed money to go to some team's training camp, said David Griffin, the Suns' assistant director of player personnel. "He's piqued our interest," Suns president Bryan Colangelo said. "He's a good kid, and he plays hard."
Marc Iavaroni, who coached the Suns' summer-league team, said Tabuse "can make some fantastic assists. But he can also make some fantastic turnovers.
"He adds a dimension of playing up-tempo, which we like to play," Iavaroni said. Much like a sports car going around a bend, Tabuse could develop into a solid player "when he understands when to put on the brakes."
The Suns have a crowded backcourt, so his chances of actually making the opening night roster would seem slim. Then again, if the Los Angeles Clippers match the Suns' free-agent offer for Quentin Richardson, he might have a better shot at squeezing onto the roster.
There is a downside to all this: Tabuse is listed at 5-foot-9, 165 pounds.
Small players tend to get attention when they score, but not when they are pass-first point guards, such as Tabuse, Griffin suggested.
Even so, "Good players love to play with him," Griffin said. "Anybody who can score loves to play with a guy like that."
Tabuse, 24, became attracted to playing in America in 1998 when he played in a tournament that featured top high school players from around the world.
He ended up playing at BYU-Hawaii.
In 2002-03, he was back home, where he was named rookie of the year in Japan's pro league. Then it was on to America, where his summer-league play was solid enough to earn him a serious tryout for the Nuggets. "They weren't real happy to let him go," said Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who, as a former Nuggets coach is well-connected to the team.
The Nuggets already had a diminutive point guard in Earl Boykins, "So it wasn't a real good fit. But they really liked him."
His high point may have come, oddly enough, in an exhibition game last October vs. the Suns, when he had seven points, three rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes.
In finding he could play at this level, "That was a good experience for me," he said. "But that's over, a new season is coming."
After the Nuggets released him, he played for the ABA's Long Beach Jam (where Dennis Rodman played briefly) and averaged a team-high 6.3 assists. Now, the Suns are giving him a serious look.
And millions of Japanese will be interested in their decision.