Rui Hachimura Is Ready to Make History for Japan in the N.B.A.

Article Source: NY Times
Original Post Date: June 20, 2019

Hachimura was drafted in the first round on Thursday, making him the first Japanese player to be selected that soon.

CreditJeff Swinger/Associated Press

By the time Rui Hachimura came to Gonzaga University for an official visit in October 2015, he had already been on the cover of Slam Magazine — the basketball and hip-hop culture bible — back home in Japan.

The son of a Japanese mother and a father from the West African nation of Benin, Hachimura became the first Japanese player ever selected in the first round of the N.B.A. draft on Thursday night at Barclays Center, where he went No. 9 overall to the Washington Wizards.

The moment is not lost on the 6-foot-8 Hachimura, who spent three seasons in relative anonymity at Gonzaga, in the West Coast Conference. Though he held his own media day for Japanese reporters when he was at Gonzaga, the draft is, in effect, his American debut. He said a junior high school coach in Japan once told him this moment would come.

“It’s been crazy,” Hachimura told reporters in New York on Wednesday. “I can’t even believe when I started playing basketball, the coach pointed at me and he said, ‘You’re going N.B.A.’ And somehow, I was stupid, and I believed him.”

But, he continued: “And I’m really here now. It’s crazy, actually.”

This past season, Hachimura averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Zags, who breezed to another regular-season conference title and then lost to Texas Tech in the round of eight in the N.C.A.A. tournament. Hachimura had 22 points and 6 rebounds in that game.

Hachimura now looks up to N.B.A. stars like Kawhi Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to their first championship last week, and the Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. “I like to watch them a lot — how they play, how they use their bodies,” Hachimura said.

Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, recently described Hachimura as “really strong and very, very skilled.”

“He’s a terrific pull-up jump shooter,” Bilas said Wednesday on the ESPN morning show “Get Up!” He added: “I think Hachimura has got a very high ceiling. I rank him 11th over all in this draft among prospects. He’s a very, very talented player.”

Tommy Lloyd, an assistant at Gonzaga, said he sensed that kind of ceiling was possible the first time he saw Hachimura play, for Japan at the 2014 FIBA Under-17 World Championships in the United Arab Emirates. His team was a nonfactor, but Hachimura led the tournament in scoring, averaging 22.1 points a game.

“At the time, he was like 6-6 and he looked like he still hadn’t physically developed yet,” Lloyd said. “He was strong, but it still looked like there was a lot of upside. And you just thought, ‘Man, if we could take this package and he physically matures a little bit, we could really have something.’ ”

Now that Hachimura is about to make N.B.A. history for Japan, he expressed pride at being a role model for biracial children — he describes himself as “black-anese” — who he said often experience discrimination in Japan.

“There a lot of black and half-Japanese, and they play sports, and they are actually good at it,” Hachimura said. “So I think it’s going to be great for them to see this moment.”