Rui Hachimura will be one of the NBA’s most prominent rookies after becoming the first Japanese-born player selected in the first round — let alone the draft lottery.
Here are 10 things to know about the international sensation.
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Japan’s finest: A native of Japan’s Toyama Prefecture, Hachimura was born on Feb. 8 1998 to parents who are Japanese (mother) and Beninese (father). He said he chose to attend Gonzaga University over Arizona due to similarities between Spokane, Washington and his hometown. Hachimura has freely discussed his struggles growing up biracial in Japan’s dominant monoculture:
“They looked at me like I was different. I got used to it. It is what it is because they don’t have but so many black people in Japan … I am really proud about being half-African and half-Japanese. It’s rare. I’m glad to be like this.”
A rapid ascention: Though he three-peated as a national champion with Mesei High School of Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, Hachimura played only 4.6 minutes as a freshman at Gonzaga. He then earned All-West Coast Conference First Team honors as a sophomore and was a consensus Second Team All-America pick as a junior. Perhaps his rise to No. 9 in the Draft should be less surprising than the mock Drafts indicated.
A lack of control: Hachimura’s basketball journey begins in middle school … because he couldn’t locate his pitches as a fledgling baseball player: “Nobody could catch the ball,” Hachimura told The Spokesman-Review in 2018. “That’s why I switched.”
For all the World to see: Hachimura averaged a tournament-best 22.6 points at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Dubai in August 2014. Doing so drew the attention of Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd. “The raw talent was evident,” Lloyd told SI.com. “You saw the traits. He had this body that you knew was going to blow up as he started lifting weights.”
Working off the court: In addition 5-6 hours of daily study to learn English, Hachimura supplemented his learning with rap playlists and TV shows like The Vampire Diaries. In various anecdotes, Gonzaga coach Mark Few estimates Hachimura’s understanding improved from 10-20 percent to 90 in three years.
Following in the footsteps: Only the fifth Japanese-born player in NCAA history, Hachimura will become the NBA’s third once he steps on the court this fall. Yuta Tabuse was the first, playing for the Phoenix Suns in 2004, while Yuta Watanabe signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies prior to the 2018-19 season.
National team leader: Teammate Nick Fazekas, who played two years in the NBA before being naturalized as a Japanese citizen in 2018, competed alongside Hachimura at the FIBA World Cup. The 34-year-old is convinced Hachimura will lead the way. “Rui’s the most talented player we have,” Fazekas told The Japan Times. “If some of us have mediocre games and Rui picks up the slack, we can still win. But if Rui’s not going to play well, it’s going be hard for us to win.”
Extending the range: Though he shot 41.7% on 3-pointers as a junior, that came on just 36 attempts — a number that must increase for success in the current NBA. Rather than work out for individual teams, he spent the time working on that shot. Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards GM, ran the team’s Draft process as interim president of basketball operations. “He doesn’t shoot enough 3s. Well, in college that wasn’t part of what he was asked to do.”
Solid (summer) start: In three NBA Summer League games for the Wizards, Hachimura averaged 19.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 50.0 percent from the field (including a 2-of-6 showing from deep). His Las Vegas run peaked with a 25-point, nine-rebound performance against the Hawks. Impressing with his motor throughout, Hachimura earned 2019 Summer League Second Team honors despite the abbreviated run.
The biggest rookie draw? At NBA Summer League, more than 15 media members were covering Hachimura specifically. The Wizards are reportedly expecting 50-plus media members to show for the regular-season opener, with multiple outlets expected to maintain a presence. “Rui is huge right now,” Kyodo News reporter Akiko Yamawaki told The Undefeated. “He has television cameras following him everywhere. He’s just not on the sports news, but he is even on the news in Japan during the daytime at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock … When you open the newspaper in Japan, he is there all the time now. Before, only sports fans knew of him. Everybody knows Ichiro and Ohtani. Now Hachimura, everybody knows.”