FIBA World Cup - Japan v Czech Republic
SHANGHAI, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 3: Rui Hachimura #8 of Japan dunks the ball against Czech Republic during the First Round of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup on September 3, 2019 at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Hachimura impresses at World Cup, turns focus to NBA rookie season

For Wizards rookie forward Rui Hachimura and Team Japan, their appearance in this summer’s FIBA World Cup was a chance to grow on a large stage more than anything else. Entering the tournament with a No. 48 world ranking, Japan was among the lowest in the competition. Even though the program still has progress to make on the floor, the team’s heart and its growing nationwide support was on full display.

Japan didn’t win any of its five games in China (Hachimura only played in the first three), but the world took notice of the talent that made history in June as the nation’s first-ever first-round NBA draft pick. The Gonzaga product averaged 13.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in the World Cup, with his best performance coming against the Czech Republic (21 points, six rebounds, 8-12 FG) in group play.

”He’s unbelievably athletic,” said Team USA assistant and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “He has a lot of natural ability, and now it’s a matter of building on his skill set. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop. He has a bright future.”

Hailing from a country where baseball reigns supreme, Japan’s basketball program has made significant strides over the past decade. This year’s FIBA World Cup qualification was just Japan’s fifth all-time and its first since 2006. The pair of players that are driving that turnaround are Hachimura and another familiar face in the DMV, former George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe (currently a member of the Memphis Grizzlies). The team will play in its first Olympic Games since 1976 in 2020 as an automatic host nation qualifier in Tokyo.

Hachimura’s success at Gonzaga and budding NBA career has taken Japan by storm, and he’s already raised the profile of the team at the World Cup singlehandedly off the court. On the court, however, the tournament proved to be an important test as the young Hachimura prepares to embark on his first NBA season.

As the star of Team Japan, Hachimura consistently drew the extra attention of opposing defenses, often in the form of double teams. He handled the attention admirably, using it to his advantage to draw fouls (he shot 20 free throws in three games) or find open teammates. And while playing alongside an All-Star in Bradley Beal and his other Wizards teammates this season will certainly shift focus away from him offensively, the experience of being the center of attention should prove invaluable as Hachimura continues to focus on growth.

Despite being the youngest player on Japan’s roster, Hachimura proved to be a leader through a tournament of tough results. He didn’t make any excuses along the way, always being quick to point out areas of focus for improvement as the Japanese program will now turn to preparing for Tokyo 2020.

“It’s a reminder of how tough the opponents are,” said Hachimura. “It’s a realization that going forward, not just for Japan, but for all of the Asian countries, we need to start closing the gap soon.”

Still, he’s looking forward to using the experience for growth heading into the NBA season. Measured and mature for his young age, Hachimura knows that he’ll need to transition back to being a student of the game come training camp. Whatever’s on the horizon, he’s well-equipped for the challenge.

“I’m really looking forward to the season,” said Hachimura. “I need to prepare as best I can. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll be asked to help the team, but I’ll do whatever I can.”

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