Basketball

Hachimura beginning to turn heads overseas

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Rui “Louis” Hachimura is the next big thing coming out of Japan, and many are already paying attention to the 16-year-old basketball player’s post-high school career.

In fact, Hachimura, who was born to a Japanese mother and a father from Benin, has publicly stated that he wants to leave Japan to play at a U.S. university upon his graduation from Meisei High School, and several American colleges seem to be showing an interest thanks to Hachimura’s stellar performance at August’s FIBA Under-17 World Championship in Dubai.

Japan finished 14th in the 16-team competition with a 1-6 record, but Hachimura shone individually and ended up as the tourney’s top scorer (22.6 points per game). Japan was completely outplayed by the eventual-champion United States, losing by a 122-38 score in the round of 16 stage, but Hachimura accounted for 25 of Japan’s total points.

“I want to go to a university in America, and eventually want to play in the NBA. I’m playing with that motivation in mind,” Hachimura said during the All-Japan High School Tournament, in which he guided Meisei to consecutive titles late last month (He averaged 28.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the five games his team played).

One American scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Hachimura, a 198-cm player, is an intriguing prospect who is full of potential.

“The sky is the limit for his basketball future,” the scout told The Japan Times. “He’s a long, athletic kid, who, right now in his development, does a little bit of everything. He averaged 23 per game this summer in FIBA play, so his scoring ability is there.”

The scout added that Hachimura would need to improve his shooting and physicality to compete on the same level as bigger and stronger athletes in the U.S.

“It will be interesting to see how his skill set translates to playing alongside other talented players,” he said. “He has a chance to do things no other Japanese basketball player has ever accomplished.”

So far, Michael Takahashi (Cal State Northridge), Keijuro Matsui (Columbia), Taishi Ito (Portland) and current freshman Yuta Watanabe (George Washington) are the only Japanese-born men to have played NCAA Division I college basketball.

Another anonymous American college scout said Hachimura is “definitely a Division I player,” but when asked about which level in D-I, he responded that it would all depend on how he develops in the next two years until he graduates.

The scout hinted that if Hachimura was to play power forward in the U.S. (he was listed as a center in the All-Japan Tournament), his success would be limited, and he would have to work on his outside skills.

“He’s a 6-6 (198-cm) power forward,” the scout said. “Unless he grows three more inches, his potential is very limited as a power forward. He will need to develop stronger perimeter skills in order to be a consistent threat at the Division I level.”

The scout said that as intriguing as Hachimura’s ability is, noting he has a chance to be a mid-major Division I player, (he said Hachimura is a lower major Division I player right now), he wasn’t sure if it’s beneficial for Hachimura to remain in Japan for two more years.

In other words, would it help him reach his potential?

Torsten Loibl, a German who’s in charge of developing Japan’s junior prospects and has watched Hachimura closely as the sports director for the Japan Basketball Association, said he felt that Hachimura is “by far the biggest prospect Japan has at this moment.”

“Looking back at the U-17 World Championship in Dubai, Rui was the only player who was able to compete on the international top level,” Loibl told The Japan Times. “He’s got everything a good basketball player needs: Attitude, athleticism, size, IQ and very good moving ability.”

Loibl wondered, however, if playing at a U.S. college would give Hachimura the best chance to blossom into the player he possibly could be, since he’d face a much tougher challenge in America in terms of the talent level and competition.

“Rui has the potential to play D-I in the U.S., even for a better school,” Loibl said. “(But) as you know, there are just too many excellent players better than Rui (in the U.S.). Would Rui get a real chance over there? My personal opinion: Europe was the better choice for him. There are great development programs for players like him, and he might get a chance to compete on a D-II pro level, which is much more valuable for a young player.”