Basketball / NBA

Former Gonzaga staffer Riccardo Fois believes Rui Hachimura will be a great pro

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Riccardo Fois, a player development coach for the Phoenix Suns, believes Rui Hachimura, who spent the last three seasons with him while he was on the Gonzaga University coaching staff, will be a great pro — not just a good one — in the NBA.

“I think he’s going to be a great player,” Fois said of Hachimura, who was the No. 9 overall draft pick by the Washington Wizards in June, right after the player had a game-high 25 points in his team’s 76-71 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA Summer League on Thursday at Thomas & Mack Center.

“He has everything to be great. He knows what it takes. Obviously, the NBA players are the best players in the world. If you want to be one of the best players in the world, you are going to go get it.”

The Italian added: “You’ve got to be a little lucky. Certain things have to go your way. But I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a great player, a great teammate, and he’s going to have a long NBA career and a long international career, which is for Japan, as well.”

Fois spent time with Hachimura during the forward’s three-year tenure at Gonzaga, including the early days when the Toyama Prefecture native didn’t speak much English or fully understand the game in the United States.

“I didn’t speak a word of Japanese, either,” Fois, who served as a coordinator of basketball analytics and video operations for Gonzaga for the last five seasons before being hired by the Suns in late June, joked. “So it was cool because he challenged us, the coaches, to learn Japanese culture. And we challenged Rui to learn about American culture. He took time because we had to adjust the way we approached him, he had to adjust the way he approached his teammates and us. But it was a part of getting better and growing (for him).

“There were challenges, there were a lot of tough days, for him especially. And he never lost his mind, he never lost his energy. So we are all proud of him. That’s why I think he’s going to be a great NBA player because he has that. He went through tough moments there (other) players here never had to experience.”

The 32-year-old also believes that Hachimura’s commitment and dedication since arriving in Spokane, Washington, has made him who he is today.

“I think it’s a great story,” Fois said of Hachimura’s ascension from a Japanese prospect to NBA first-rounder. “He worked a lot to get to where he is right now. He’s kept working. He had big goals. The greatest thing about Rui from the first moment I met him at Gonzaga was he always had a dream, he always had a plan to get to the dream.

“That’s what makes him special. He never (got) derailed from the plan even when it was really tough. And many people would quit or give up. He actually, like, doubled down on getting better, and got better every day. And the results paid off.”

On this day, Hachimura played more on the outside than he had in his previous Summer League contests and seemed to be more in his comfort zone as a small forward than playing near the basket. He nailed a pair of 3-pointers, too.

“Well, that’s what this is about, him to be put in different positions. To be able to play inside, outside,” Wizards Summer League coach Robert Pack said. “He was able to get a little iso (isolation) at the elbow and drive on guys. So we want to see him do a lot of different things.”

Pack continued: “That’s what today was about. I think he scored from various positions and he took advantage of the opportunities.”

Looking ahead, the Wizards coaching staff will determine how to utilize the 203-cm, 104-kg Hachimura.

“I think Rui can be a great 3, can be a great 4,” said Fois, who served as an assistant for the Italy men’s national team at the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket championship. “I think 3 and 4 in the NBA, small forward and power forward, are very interchangeable, depending on what team. But he has many characteristics like Kawhi Leonard. I’m not saying he’s Kawhi Leonard, but he can mold his game around that.

“Today, he played great because he can attack you from the dribble. He has mid-range shots, he knows how to get to the rim, he can pass the ball. So it’s going to take a little bit for him to understand what part of his game is more efficient. But I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that he can be a great 3 or a great 4, depending on the situation.”

Hachimura did not play in the Wizards’ 103-87 loss on Saturday to the New York Knicks in a consolation game. He averaged 19.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in three Summer League games.