The intro to my NBA Draft day article on Rui Hachimura.
By Ed Odeven
Rui Hachimura made history on Thursday night in New York.
Half a world away, the upbeat news provided a positive buzz throughout Hachimura’s homeland on Friday morning. At 9:32 a.m., Hachimura’s immediate future in basketball was announced to a global audience.
The 21-year-old Gonzaga University forward became the first Japanese basketball player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, with the Washington Wizards choosing Hachimura with the ninth pick. The team was 32-50 and missed the playoffs last season. The Wizards’ lone NBA title came in 1978 when they beat the SuperSonics in seven games.
Speaking to ESPN reporter Maria Taylor after donning his new Wizards cap and shaking NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, Hachimura exuded joy.
“It’s crazy. It’s unreal. It means a lot to me, my family and my country. … I’m just thankful,” said a beaming Hachimura, who donned a bright multi-colored suit for the once-in-a-lifetime festivities. He wore a pin of the Japanese flag on his suit jacket.
Hachimura thanked his coaches, starting with his first hoop mentor, Joji Sakamoto, his coach at Okuda Junior High School, who boldly told Hachimura on the first day he attended team practice that he would be a future NBA player. “And I believed in him and I trusted him,” Hachimura said, repeating a story he said before the draft that’s now been transmitted around the world. He also thanked his high school coach (Hisao Sato) and trainer, all of his high school and college teammates and longtime Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
“I want to thank everybody,” he stated.
Then he delivered a short message in Japanese: “Minna-san, yarimashita. Nihon-jin hatsu. NBA desu,” he declared.
“What did you say?” Taylor asked.
“I said I’m the first guy in the NBA that got drafted (from Japan),” he replied, referring to the first round.
Asked by a reporter to describe his style of play and what impact he thinks he can make for the Wizards, Hachimura responded by saying: “I think I can play defense. Both sides, defense and offense. I think I can impact the game. I can get rebounds and push the ball. I can shoot. I can pass. I think I can help the team a lot.”