Basketball / NBA

Wizards welcome Rui Hachimura

Kyodo

Washington Wizards fans can expect to see Rui Hachimura “play hard” every time he takes the floor, the NBA team’s first-round draft pick said Friday.

Fronting the media for his introductory press conference at Washington’s Capital One Arena, the NBA’s ninth overall pick said he would continue playing the high-energy brand of basketball that made him a collegiate star as a forward for Gonzaga University.

“I come out with good energy. Offensively, defensively…I’m just going to play hard, every game,” said Hachimura, a day after becoming the first Japanese player taken in the opening round of the NBA draft.

Dressed sharply in a black checked suit, black shirt and maroon tie, Hachimura looked at ease in front of the media alongside Wizards coach Scott Brooks and interim general manager Tommy Sheppard, smiling and cracking jokes during the conference.

Answering questions from reporters in English, he displayed a confident grasp of the language he barely spoke upon arriving at Gonzaga, a college located in Spokane, Washington state, in 2016.

While some rookies might be overwhelmed by the media attention, the throng of journalists at the Wizards’ headquarters was a familiar sight for Hachimura, already the biggest basketball star his country has ever produced.

“I’m used to it. This is kind of small,” he said. “When I was in Japan, there were a couple of press conferences like this, with more people. But it was all Japanese, (so) it was easier.”

But the 21-year-old, who stands 203 cm with a 218-cm wingspan, said he was moved by the welcome he received from the team and fans at the arena, which had been decorated with his image.

“I saw the outside (of the arena), all the pictures of myself, it’s everywhere. I took a good video of it and sent it to my family. I’m so blessed to be here,” Hachimura said.

Brooks, a former NBA player who took the reins in Washington in 2016, said he had been impressed by Hachimura’s character.

“I had conversations with (Gonzaga coach Mark Few) where I tried to get him to say one bad thing about (Hachimura), and he just wouldn’t do that. He said you’re going to love coaching him and, meeting him today, I’m excited for myself and for my staff and for our franchise and our fanbase,” said the 53-year-old coach, who also complimented Hachimura’s looks and dress sense.

“As you can see, if he doesn’t do well in basketball, he’s definitely going to have a modeling career,” he joked.

Hachimura said he was looking forward to life in multicultural Washington, home to a sizeable Japanese community and a landmark grove of Japanese cherry trees.

“I heard about the cherry blossoms. That’s like a Japanese thing. I actually want to go see it. I heard there are a lot of Japanese people here, and I’m so excited to meet those people,” he said.

He also drew laughs by announcing his plans to track down authentic Japanese cuisines in his new home city.

“For sure, they have a good Japanese restaurant, right? I want to try that,” said Hachimura, who is set to play for the Wizards at the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League in July.

Despite his confident demeanor, Hachimura said he had initially struggled to adjust to the United States and thanked his former Gonzaga teammates and coaching staff for helping him adjust to a new culture.

“Especially my first year in college, it was really hard for me. I literally had no English. I had no idea about the culture here. I’m black, but I’m like totally Japanese,” Hachimura said.

“It was very hard to adjust here, around the American people. People at Gonzaga helped me a lot. My teammates, my coach, a lot of people helped me. That’s why I’m here right now.”