Basketball / NBA

Hornets star Kemba Walker says Rui Hachimura will be 'a big name in the NBA'

by Joel Fitzpatrick

Kyodo

While Rui Hachimura’s immediate future in the NBA will be determined later this month, one established superstar believes the young forward will fit right in.

Speaking to the media Friday night during a visit to Tokyo, Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was happy to stump for the former Gonzaga University star ahead of the NBA Draft, which will be held June 20 in New York.

“I think one day he is going to be a big name in the NBA,” Walker said of Hachimura, who is expected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick.

“I am looking forward to seeing his growth and his progress over the year. I think he is going to be a really good player.”

Walker visited Tokyo to make an appearance at an NBA Finals viewing party hosted by e-commerce giant Rakuten.

A college basketball hero known for his heroics in leading the University of Connecticut to an NCAA title in 2011, Walker said he was familiar with Hachimura’s game.

“I’m a big college basketball fan, I got a chance to watch Rui a lot. . . . I have always been a fan,” he said.

He explained that, as a power forward, Hachimura is a perfect fit for the modern NBA in which the most successful frontcourt players can use their size, athleticism, versatility and, ideally, jump shot to impact the game.

“The way the league is now, being able to get up and down (the court) at his size, I think he will do very well and I think his game will translate,” said Walker, 29, who recently was received his first All-NBA selection after averaging a career-high 25.6 points per game in the 2018-19 season.

When asked what advice he has for young players like Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, Japan’s second-ever NBA player who just completed his rookie season while playing on a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, Walker said they have to realize a career in the league is more marathon than sprint.

“It’s every single night, it is the best league in the world and you are playing against the best players in the world every single night,” he said. “So, the challenge on that level is you just have to be prepared each and every night to bring your best.”

A member of the United States’ extended national team squad, Walker might get an early taste of what the Japanese players have to offer at this year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup, which will be held in China in August and September.

If Walker plays, something he said he would like to do, he will face Japan in the group stage, with the Akatsuki Five, Turkey and the Czech Republic set to battle it out with the Americans for a place in the second round.

“It will be an honor, of course, it will be the first time in my professional career that I will get the opportunity to compete for the USA team,” he said. “It will be an honor to play against Japan. I love playing against different competition, especially guys from another country, so I am looking forward to it.”

Speaking at the same event, Makoto Hiejima and Ryusei Shinoyama, two key members of the Japan national team that put together an eight-game winning streak to secure a place at the World Cup, also sang the praises of Hachimura.

Shinoyama, who plays for the B. League’s Kawasaki Brave Thunders, said the national team got a huge spark when Hachimura arrived from the United States.

“We battled together as teammates in the World Cup qualifiers, and even though he is still young, he showed himself to be a player we could count on,” said Shinoyama.

Perhaps Japan’s most consistent performer on the journey to the World Cup, Hiejima said the 21-year-old Hachimura was the team’s World Cup savior, a salient comment considering a failure to reach the tournament may have jeopardized the chances of the team being given a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“He joined us for the World Cup qualifiers when we were hanging on the cliff’s edge. We beat Australia (in June 2018) and he showed what an incredible talent he is,” said Hiejima, a Tochigi Brex star.

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