Rui Hachimura and Japan taking next steps as Tokyo 2020 looms

The maiden Japanese NBA draft pick and his national team gained vital experience at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

By ZK Goh

It's been a memorable few months for Rui Hachimura.

In June, the 21-year-old became the first Japanese basketball player picked in the NBA Draft (and was also, by extension, the first Japanese picked in the first round of the draft). Only two other Japanese players, both undrafted, have played in the NBA.

Hachimura, who was born to a Beninese father and Japanese mother, was selected ninth overall by the Washington Wizards.

After a hectic July playing in the NBA Summer League, he starred for Japan at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in China.

It's the latest step on his road to representing the host nation at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Busy summer

It's a long way from his three years at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington state.

The forward, who measures 6-foot-8 (2.07 metres) tall, led his team in scoring (19.7 points per game) in his final collegiate season, winning the West Coast Conference player of the year award for 2018/19.

Hachimura chose to forgo his final year of college eligibility to enter the NBA Draft.

“It’s been crazy,” he said.

“I got drafted, went to D.C. [to join up with the Wizards] and we had like a mini-camp, then Summer League and now the World Cup.

"It’s been a crazy summer but I’ve been having fun with this experience, this process. I’ve played a lot of games this summer, everywhere.

"I don’t know how much I grew, but I have more confidence.”

At the Las Vegas Summer League, Hachimura averaged 19.3 ppg in three games for the Wizards.

Next steps

Japan aren't traditional basketball powerhouses, but have already qualified for Tokyo 2020 by virtue of being the host country.

Hachimura is undoubtedly the star of the team, alongside the Memphis Grizzlies' Yuta Watanabe, the other NBA player on Japan's roster.

They were drawn into a tough Group E alongside Turkey, the Czech Republic, and the United States, and defeats in their first two games eliminated the team from playoff contention, prior to the matchup with the U.S.

It's still a learning process for the team, but Hachimura has impressed.

His average figures from the first two games: 18 points, 50 percent shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals.

And in a pre-tournament exhibition, the Toyama native nailed 31 points in a win over Germany.

We'll leave the last word to Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard.

“He’s going to be a really nice player in the NBA," Sheppard told the Associated Press from China, where he's following Hachimura.

"He’s got a lot – a lot – of upside. He’s got a lot of learning to do, but he’s got excellent skill and excellent will.

"It just takes time, and we have to develop that.”