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This feature appears in The Japan Times.

By Ed Odeven

Mark your calendars.

June 20 is the day that officially puts Japan on the global basketball map like never before.

The reason?

The 2019 NBA Draft will forever change Rui Hachimura’s life and, possibly, perceptions about Japanese basketball players.

The dynamic former Gonzaga University forward appears to be a sure-shot first-round selection.

The draft will be held in New York City at Barclays Center.

The draft used to be a real crapshoot. Case in point: The Golden State Warriors selected Yasutaka Okayama, a 230-cm former center, in the eighth round (171st overall pick) in the 1981 draft. He never played in the NBA. Which was the case for the overwhelming majority latter-round picks that year, especially from the fifth round through 10th. Of the players chosen from No. 93 (first pick in fifth round) to 223 (final pick in the 10th), only seven of them ever appeared in an NBA regular-season game.

Okayama, for one, was stunned that he was drafted.

“It totally came out of the blue,” Okayama told The Japan Times’ Kaz Nagatsuka in a 2015 interview. “A writer at a sports paper called and told me that I was drafted. That’s how I found out.”

Since 1989, there have only been two rounds in the annual draft. The globalization of the game has only contributed to the cutthroat competition (only 60 overall draft positions exist nowadays).

In his latest mock draft, Basketball Hall of Fame scribe Sam Smith, a former Japan Times contributor, has Hachimura penciled in going to the Boston Celtics with the 14th overall pick.

NBAdraft.net also made that prediction. Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on the internet that the Minnesota Timberwolves will use their No. 11 pick to snatch Hachimura after “promising” to do so, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders.

Smith’s prognostications are posted on Bulls.com, where he also provided these insights on Hachimura: “More skilled than his Gonzaga teammate (Brandon) Clarke, but not quite the athlete. Well, if you can’t get Anthony Davis. … He’d be a value pick at the bottom of the lottery as a skilled big man who actually would seem to fit well with their patterned play once Kyrie (Irving) stops dribbling.”

Carl Berman, managing partner of NetScouts Basketball, an international recruiting service, agrees with Smith’s basic prediction for the 203-cm Hachimura.

“I see him in the 12-18 range at this point,” Berman told The Japan Times in a recent interview.

“There is a lot to like with his physical profile and ability to play both forward positions. He also has good potential moving forward as he hasn’t been playing against top competition long.

“He needs to improve general court awareness/game management, defense and get more consistent shooting especially from further out. There’s a lot to like especially down the line.”

Full article: Rui Hachimura excites draft experts | The Japan Times