Basketball / NBA

No time to rest for busy Rui Hachimura

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Rui Hachimura has had to go through a hectic schedule since he was drafted by the Washington Wizards last month.

Last week, the 21-year-old finally returned to his native Japan for the first time since the draft on June 20. But he won’t have much time to sit back and relax on his couch.

Hachimura will soon begin working with the provisional Japanese men’s national team ahead of the FIBA World Cup, which will kick off on Aug. 31 in China.

The Akatsuki Five have been grouped with Turkey, Czech Republic and the United States in the tournament’s preliminary round.

“To put it in one word, I’m excited about it,” said Hachimura when asked about his World Cup aspirations at a Monday news conference in Tokyo held by Nissin Foods, which has embarked on a “global sponsorship contract” with the Toyama native. “We’ll play against America, too. And I’m thrilled to imagine how much Japan can achieve in the competition.”

Looking beyond the World Cup, Hachimura is expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, which he insisted is his dream. The 203-cm forward, who became the first Japanese first-round pick in the NBA Draft, said he wants to build momentum toward the Olympics during the World Cup.

Despite not yet appearing in China, or even making his NBA regular season debut, Hachimura has seen his fame and marketability skyrocket since the draft.

The presence of over 100 reporters and 30 television cameras at the Nissin news conference underscored the former Gonzaga star’s rapid ascent into the public consciousness.

Hachimura, who was born to a Japanese mother and Beninese father, acknowledged the increasing amount of attention he’s getting, saying that he’s “been noticed just walking around town” whether he’s in Japan or the United States. He added that he is excited by extent Japanese basketball’s profile has risen in recent years.

Shortly after his arrival in Japan last week, Hachimura shot his first-ever commercial, which is currently being broadcast online, for Nissin.

“It was my first commercial, but it is very cool,” Hachimura said of the clip, which was revealed for the first time at Monday’s event.

Nissin, which is an official sponsor for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, also endorses Japanese tennis players Naomi Osaka, Kei Nishikori and Yosuke Watanuki.

Hachimura has also signed with Jordan Brand, the sporting apparel company named after legendary former NBA star Michael Jordan and owned by Nike, following the draft.