Where EAST meets the Northwest
UP-AND-COMING STAR. Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura (#21) shoots against the
University of Portland during the first half of a National Collegiate Athletic
Association basketball game in Portland, Oregon. Hachimura has flourished since
joining his junior-high basketball team. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #03 (February 4, 2019), page 7.
Rui Hachimura of Japan poised for NBA stardom
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
Chinese stars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian have left their mark on the National
Basketball Association (NBA), but only two Japan-born players have ever made it
into an NBA game. Donít feel bad if you havenít heard of them. Yuta Tabuse
played 17 minutes in four games for the Phoenix Suns during the 2004-2005
season, and Yuta Watanabe has logged just 52 minutes in eight games for the
Memphis Grizzlies this season. But Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura is
ready to change all that.
Hachimura was born in Toyama, Japan, to a Beninese father and a Japanese
mother. His fatherís West African heritage made Rui look distinctively different
from other Japanese, and he sometimes felt ostracized for being hafu, or
biracial. Despite this, he showed moderate success in school athletics, playing
soccer, track, and baseball.
After a friend suggested he try out for his junior-high basketball team,
Hachimura flourished. He led that team to second place in the nation, then led
his high school team to consecutive national titles and played for Team Japan in
a succession of International Basketball Federation (FIBA) youth tournaments.
In 2013, Hachimura and Japan took a surprising third place at the FIBA Asia
U16 tournament. The following year, Hachimura led everyone in scoring at the
2014 FIBA U17 World Championships, outscoring future NBA players Harry Giles,
Jayson Tatum, and Josh Jackson. Playing against the U.S., Japan was shellacked,
38-122, but Hachimura accounted for 25 of Japanís 38 points.
Already a big name in Japan, Hachimura gained international attention from
those FIBA tournaments. In 2015, he was the only Japanese player invited to the
Jordan Brand Classic, a premier showcase for under-16 basketball talent, and he
caught the eye of a range of college recruiters.
Hachimura chose to enroll at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, for
two main reasons. First, its climate was similar to Toyama. Second, its
basketball program has a reputation for bringing international players to
America, featuring athletes from France, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany, and
Brazil, among others.
This gave Hachimura plenty of help, but his first season at Gonzaga,
2016-2017, included plenty of adjustments. He had to learn a new language and
culture and adapt to a faster, more aggressive game. Hachimura came off the
bench in 28 games that year, collecting 73 points, 38 rebounds, and three blocks
in 128 total minutes. Though he contributed little, Gonzaga reached the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finals before falling to North Carolina,
In 2017-2018, Hachimuraís impact off the bench grew. He played in all 37
games and racked up 766 minutes, averaging more than 11 points and almost five
rebounds per game. He made one regular-season start against IUPUI, and had the
best game of the season against Texas, nearly recording his first career
double-double with a 20-point, nine-rebound performance at the Moda Center in
But Hachimuraís most dramatic game that season came in the 2018 NCAA
tournament. Gonzaga survived a first-round scare against UNC-Greensboro, 68-64,
and then beat Ohio State in the next round, 90-84, with Hachimura contributing a
season-high 25 points.
Preparing to face Florida State, however, Gonzaga lost starting forward
Killian Tillie to a hip injury sustained during practice. Suddenly, the
sophomore Hachimura would be starting the most important game of his young
Though his stat line was lower than his game against Texas, one could argue
that Hachimura played the best game of the season against Florida State, who
were a much tougher opponent. He scored 16 points in 35 minutes, had nine
rebounds, and blocked two shots, but the rest of the team didnít play as well,
and Florida State held onto an early lead for a 75-60 victory.
Despite this disappointing early exit from the tournament, the team has
surged back to the top this season, and Hachimura has become a crucial starter.
He was key in Gonzagaís biggest victory so far this season, an upset of
top-ranked Duke in the Maui Invitational, vaulting the Zags to No. 1 in the
The 89-87 win featured a lot of great moments, but most prominent was the
teamís defensive stonewalling of the Blue Devils in the gameís final minutes.
Duke had seven chances to tie the score, but they were denied each time,
including two rejections by Hachimura.
And the Japanese star didnít just shine in the final game, either. He
averaged 22.3 points and six rebounds in the tournament, shooting well both
inside and outside the three-point line. His performance earned him tournament
Most Valuable Player honors and gave him a boost of self-confidence.
Two games later, against Creighton, Hachimura finally achieved his first
career double-double, scoring 22, ripping down 11 rebounds, and adding three
steals and three assists. Those assists mark a turn in his skills this season.
In the next game, Hachimura scored 26 against Washington, his second-highest
point total of the season, and then his numbers started to shift.
Since that Washington victory, Hachimuraís scoring production has slipped a
bit while his assists have risen. After averaging 22 points and 1.5 assists in
the eight games before facing Washington, he has averaged 18 points and 2.2
assists in the 12 games since. As teams start to focus on him, heís learning to
dish the ball, reflecting the recognition of his skills by his opponents and his
growing understanding of the flow of the game.
The Gonzaga team has also slipped since that Washington victory. They dropped
the next two games ó losing to current number-one Tennessee and then to UNC,
ranked 12th at the time ó and fell from the top spot to eighth in the national
Like Hachimura, Gonzaga responded to adversity, winning the next 10 and
climbing to No. 4 in the nation. With 10 games left, none of them against
top-ranked opponents, the Bulldogs hope to tune up for the NCAA tournament, when
they will once again be favorites to rise from the first two rounds ó if not
Whether they can accomplish that goal depends a lot on Hachimura, who is
already being talked about as college player of the year and a top NBA draft
pick. Whenever he decides to declare for the NBA draft, Hachimura should make a
bigger mark on the game than either Yuta Tabuse or Yuta Watanabe, heralding
Japan as a new source of basketball talent for Asian-American sports fans
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