Rui Hachimura makes history as maiden Japanese first-round NBA draft pick

The Japanese basketball standout is the ninth-overall pick, headed to Washington Wizards

Rui Hachimura has become Japan's first basketball player to be picked in the first round of the NBA draft.

The 21-year-old was the ninth overall pick.

After spending the last three years at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, on Thursday night Hachimura was drafted by the District of Columbia-based Washington Wizards.

"It's crazy. It's unreal. It means a lot for me, my family and all my country," the Japanese prodigy said moments afterward. "I'm so thankful to be here."

Duke hooper Zion Williamson was snapped up by the New Orleans Pelicans as top pick.

Given the chance to address his fans in Japanese after the history-making pick, he later told the ESPN audience in English that his message was simple: "I said, 'I'm the first guy in the NBA that got drafted.'"

A first for Japan

When Hachimura declared in April that he would enter the NBA, he all but guaranteed that he would become the first Japanese NBA draft pick.

"It's been crazy," he said this week ahead of the draft. "When I started basketball, my coach told me, 'You're going to the NBA.' He pointed at me and said, 'You're going to the NBA.'... I'm really here now."

Hachimura, much like other Japanese sports stars including figure skating's Yuzuru Hanyu and tennis' Naomi Osaka, has attracted massive amounts of attention from his home press corps with 46 members of the press representing 23 outlets present in Brooklyn. He spent draft week media opportunities answering questions in both English and Japanese.

Though he is the first NBA draft pick, Hachimura won't be the first from his country to play in the NBA.

That honor belongs to Yuta Tabuse, who was the first Japanese to participate in a regular season NBA game in 2004 when he debuted with the Phoenix Suns.

Yuta Watanabe followed 14 long years later, playing for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018. Both, however, were undrafted.

Moving on, early

Hachimura's April announcement meant that he would forego his final season at Gonzaga University where has been a standout, including as part of the 2016-17 team that lost to the University of North Carolina in the national championship game.

"The last three years at Gonzaga have been a dream come true, and now I'd like to pursue my next dream of playing in the NBA," the 2.07m (6'8") forward was quoted saying in a press release announcing his decision. "This was a significant decision for my family and myself."

The decision came on the heels a 2018-19 season in which Hachimura was named the West Coast Conference player of the year, led Gonzaga in scoring with a 19.7 points per game average and helped his team make an Elite Eight appearance.

Juggling act ahead

Hachimura's announcement to enter the draft was hardly unexpected, but it does come with complications for an already busy schedule.

He would be a vital part of Japan's efforts during August's FIBA World Cup in China, where his home country will have to face off with the United States, Turkey and the Czech Republic in Group E.

Though Japan is already qualified to next year's 2020 Olympic Games as the host nation, the World Cup represents a chance for Japan to cut its teeth among some of the world's best teams.

That's an opportunity that will be hard to pass on for the man who hopes to be the face of Japanese basketball.

"Basketball's getting bigger in Japan and I want to be the guy, the face of it," Hachimura said.

Only time will tell how Hachimura manages representing the Japanese national team and acclimating to life in the NBA.


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