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Rui Hachimura: Ready to take the leap

Rui Hachimura sitting on bench with his teammate at Gonzaga University in 2016 (Photo by Misa Kanaoka)

by Tetsu Lin, the North American Post

Many skilled players were selected in the National Basketball Association’s 2019 draft, which concluded on June 20. These players include the consensus No. 1 overall pick, Zion Williamson, and No.2 overall pick, Ja Morant. These players will go on in their careers to shoulder great burdens for their respective teams. However, one player selected in this draft already has the expectations of an entire country on his shoulders. That player is Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura was taken as the ninth pick in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards. With the selection, Hachimura became the first player from Japan to be selected in the first round of the draft. The power forward, formerly from Gonzaga University, is the third Japanese player expected to play in the NBA following players Yuta Tabuse (Phoenix Suns) and Yuta Watanabe, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies last season.

In the NBA, Hachimura is a somewhat rare commodity. In a league where players usually start playing from a very young age, Hachimura started playing basketball when he was 13. Although Hachimura started playing late by basketball standards, by the time he graduated from Mesei High School (Sendai), Rui had led his school to three straight national championships in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Hachimura, though, is used to the feeling of being different. Born to a Japanese mother and father from the Republic of Benin in West Africa, Hachimura is used to standing out in crowds, especially in Japan. In 2015, the Toyama Prefecture native even got to play in the Jordan Brand Classic international game. In this game, he would get recognized by college scouts overseas, most notably by Gonzaga. After arriving in Washington state after his senior year at Mesei, it was clear the transition would take some time. His first two years at Gonzaga consisted mainly of sitting on the bench, trying to improve his game and, most importantly, his English. Hachimura in his junior year would have a breakout season. The 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward averaged a team-leading and career-high 19.7 points & 6.5 rebounds in his last season for the Bulldogs. Although his team lost in the NCAA tournament, his energetic & powerful style of play propelled him into the NBA conversation.

Hachimura, amazingly, in just seven years of basketball, went from only being known in his hometown, to being scouted by every NBA team. His spectacular rise comes at an important time for Japan, which is hosting the 2020 Olympics. Despite his age, Hachimura is set to have a primary role on the team and is expected to maybe win a medal. Even with pressure from his country and peers, Hachimura has seemed to always step up to the challenge with the utmost confidence. That is something both Japan and the Washington Wizards desperately need and want from their young, upcoming star.