2019 Las Vegas Summer League - Day 2 - New Orleans Pelicans v Washington Wizards
LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 6: Rui Hachimura #8 of the Washington Wizards/ looks on against the New Orleans Pelicans during Day 2 of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League on July 6, 2019 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Rui Hachimura begins NBA journey as the face of Japanese basketball

Rui Hachimura sat in the gym of a UNLV campus building in a rare moment of down time. Practice on this Friday was closed to the media and most of the team had left to catch the bus. Hachimura, who became one of the most intriguing players at 2019 NBA Summer League, reflected on what’s been quite the month for the 21-year old.

Since he was drafted ninth overall by the Wizards on June 20, few NBA players have been as busy on and off the court as Hachimura. It started on draft night when dozens of Japanese media members swarmed Hachimura as he approached his first press conference as a Wizards. The mania continued throughout the night, giving a preview to what life as Rui Hachimura will be like for years to come.

Following draft night, Hachimura traveled to Washington and was introduced at his press conference on Friday, June 21. He would stay the weekend in D.C., then head back West for a few days, before joining the team for minicamp on Tuesday night, June 25. The Wizards practiced through Thursday in the nation’s capital and reconvened in Las Vegas early for Summer League. Practice officially began on July 2, but many players, including Hachimura, were already in Vegas.

Along with all of that time in the gym, Hachimura had the largest media following of any player at Summer League. The first Japanese player ever drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft, Hachimura has an entire nation following his every move. Japan has simply never had a basketball player this good, and Hachimura is one of the most famous Japanese people in the world right now.

Over 60 Japanese media members were credentialed for Summer League, in addition to the D.C. media that traveled to Las Vegas. Due to the demand, Hachimura conducted his media availability in both English and Japanese, in addition to some exclusive interviews and other obligations he had to fulfill.

Luckily for the rookie, he’s used to all of the attention and lack of free time by now. His name is on the front page of newspapers all over Japan, he’s featured on the news every night, and just about everybody in Japan knows who Rui Hachimura is. The attention has given him patience and maturity beyond his years and allowed him to stay poised and level-headed, both on and off the court.

“It’s been like this since high school,” Hachimura said. “I expected it to be like this. I can’t even imagine how crazy it is right now in Japan. It means a lot, for me, my family, and my country. It’s just a big thing for us – drafted in the first round and going to the NBA.”

When Hachimura scored 25 points and nine rebounds against the Hawks on July 11, one can only imagine how crazy all of Japan was going, but his new fans in Washington also had to like what they saw. In that game, Hachimura made 9-of-12 shots from the field and added two blocks. It was the type of all-around game that showed why the Wizards were so high on him. He made a pull-up 3-pointer, scored again and again in the pick-and-roll, protected the rim, and bullied Atlanta inside.

“I can do anything, literally,” Hachimura said after the win over the Hawks. “No matter how they defend and stuff. I shoot three’s, I pick and roll, I pop, and everything. Defensively, too. I can guard one through five.”

Overall in Summer League, Hachimura averaged 19.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game and 50.0% shooting from the field. On Monday, Hachimura was named All-MGM Resorts NBA Summer League Second Team, as selected by a panel of media.

“I think he had a great week,” Wizards Summer League head coach Robert Pack said of Hachimura. “Not just the week here, but the start of [mini] camp, he was locked in, [he] was able to make progress from day 1 throughout this week here in Vegas. I thought he brought a lot of competitiveness, composure out there for a long player. I think it’s only going to get better. He was able to get a lot of different looks at different situations during the Summer League, and he’ll be better for it coming into training camp.”

“As a player on the court, a guy coming in with the notoriety, it wasn’t like he was trying to do it all. He played for the team, and that’s a testament to his character as well.”

“His demeanor has just been terrific,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said on the ESPN broadcast on July 6. “You don’t know if he a good play or a bad play; he just plays the game the same way. The thing that I love about him, I love his passion for the game. He’s a very high IQ basketball player. He really understands team. He’s been with a great program. I just love how he interacts with his teammates.”

Hachimura is looking forward to watching tape of his first three games, even though they were just in Summer League. He noted that the number of coaches in Las Vegas really helped him, and the games gave him a preview to the difference in spacing and pace in the NBA compared to college. The Gonzaga product repeatedly emphasized learning from his first couple of games and improving day by day.

Seeing teammates like John Wall, Bradley Beal, Jordan McRae, and Thomas Bryant show up for the games also gave Hachimura got Hachimura excited for the future. He grew close to Troy Brown Jr. right away, playing alongside him and spending time off the court with the team.

“We played a couple of games,” Hachimura said. “I’m obviously still getting used to NBA games and I have a lot of things I didn’t even know so I’ve been asking the coaches and even the players. I just want to help this team win games.”

“I don’t care how high I got drafted. Whatever I have to do for the team. I got to improve every day little by little and help this team.”

Summer League is over now, and Hachimura will be able to have about a month to get ready for the next chapter of his life. The rookie will move to the capital of the United States, an international hub of its own, for the next chapter of his life.

Later this summer, Hachimura will head to Japan to join the national team there for preparation for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Japan will also host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, in which Hachimura will certainly be one of the faces of the 2020 Games.

The scrutiny and craziness will only increase from here on out, especially when Hachimura steps onto the court for the first time in an official NBA game later this fall. One can only imagine the Japanese fans that will come see him play all over the country (and Toronto) as Hachimura and the Wizards travel from city to city.

“It’s been crazy,” he said. “After I got drafted, and even before, everything changed. More people recognized me when I walk outside. More media. But I’m glad I joined a great organization like the Wizards.”

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