Rui Hachimura was honored to represent his home country in the Tokyo Olympics as one of Japan’s flagbearers at the Opening Ceremony and also on the basketball court with the men’s national team.

In a story this week for The Spokesman-Review, the local newspaper in the same city as Gonzaga University where Hachimura played college ball, I highlighted his Olympic experiences and his thoughts on what it was like, as well as aspirations for the Japan national team moving forward.

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Rui rules: Former Zag star Hachimura stirs Japan at Olympics

By Ed Odeven
Special to The Spokesman-Review

TOKYO – Rui Hachimura’s Olympic experience didn’t include a storybook appearance in a game with a coveted medal at stake.

But he did generate gold-medal level excitement for Japan’s sports fans, most of whom had never seen the national men’s basketball team appear in the Olympics before.

The Tokyo Games, pushed back a year due to the global pandemic, gave the Japanese team a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage for the first time since the 1976 Montreal Olympics, more than 20 years before Hachimura’s birth and decades before his rise to stardom at Sendai’s Meisei High School and Gonzaga University.

For Hachimura, a forward for the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the Olympic experience included an honor of a lifetime, he said. Hachimura, 23, was selected along with women’s freestyle wrestler Yui Susaki as one of Japan’s two flagbearers for the Opening Ceremony on July 23 at the New National Stadium.

Hachimura spoke about what it meant to him to be chosen as a flagbearer in the days leading up to the opening.

“I am very honored and very happy to be selected on the Japanese team for the Tokyo Olympics. I’m really looking forward to playing on the stage I dreamed of,” Hachimura was quoted as saying by Kyodo News, a national news agency. “I would like to put the weight of the Hinomaru (flag) on my shoulders with my teammates, coaches, and staff, and work hard as a team to play in a way that makes all of Japan proud.”

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On the court, he carried his team, as well. Despite Japan dropping three provisional games at the Olympics, Hachimura demonstrated his growth as a player since leaving the Zags as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) after his junior season.

In an 88-77 loss to reigning world champion Spain in its first game, Hachimura scored 20 points, matching Spain’s savvy point guard and longtime NBA veteran Ricky Rubio for game-high total in points.

In normal times against a global basketball power like Spain, the sight of Hachimura, fellow NBA player Yuta Watanabe and the national team would have attracted a sellout crowd. But fans were barred at nearly all Olympic venues due to COVID-19 protocols amidst the pandemic.

As a result, Hachimura reflected on the what-ifs in comments to reporters after the game. He provided some perspective, looking back at exhibition contests from 2019 in the run-up to the FIBA World Cup.

“We talked about it before the game,” Hachimura said. “We actually played here like two years ago, an exhibition game or something. A lot of people came, we were looking forward to it, but it is what it is. Can’t do anything about it, and everybody’s watching on TV.”

Read the full story here: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2021/aug/11/rui-hachimura-shows-expanded-skill-during-tokyo-ol/