Basketball

Rui Hachimura's 35 points drive Akatsuki Five to exhibition win over New Zealand

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

NBA first-round draftee Rui Hachimura navigated Japan to a 99-89 victory over New Zealand on Monday, delivering a stellar performance in Japan’s first warmup exhibition ahead of the upcoming FIBA World Cup.

The 21-year-old forward scored 35 points to help the Akatsuki Five post a victory over the Tall Blacks before a capacity crowd of 5,610 at Chiba Port Arena.

“It was my first time playing in Japan in a while,” Hachimura said after the game. “And it was great to win this game (in the same venue) where we had a historic win against Australia, although this was an exhibition.

“As a team, we got off to a great start both offensively and defensively. We moved the ball well, sharing it among our players. We played a good basketball game. We still have more exhibition games to play but I think it was a great start for us (toward our World Cup campaign).”

Japan pulled off an upset over the Boomers, then ranked No. 10 in the world, at the same arena during World Cup Asian qualifiers last summer. That win sparked a resurgence in Japan, which followed the result with seven straight “Ws” to secure a spot in China this September.

Hachimura pulled in points throughout the evening with his sharp mid-range jumpers. He hit 11 of his 15 shots from the field while also going 2-for-2 from behind the 3-point line. The former Gonzaga University forward, who was selected by the Washington Wizards with the ninth overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, was less than clinical from the free-throw line, sinking 7 of his 14 attempts.

“I struggled with my free-throw shooting today,” said Hachimura, who had five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win. “But I won’t dwell on that too much because when you can’t make them, you can’t make them. I’m not going to change anything because I (shot) like that today.”

New Zealand, which earned a 10-2 record in the Asian qualifiers and is currently ranked No. 38 in the world (Japan is 48th), bounced back from a 27-16 deficit at the end of the first quarter. That was not enough to overcome an explosive third period from Nick Fazekas, who scored 13 of his 21 points in the stanza to go with his seven rebounds. Hachimura racked up 11 points in the final quarter to seal the deal for Japan.

Yudai Baba, who played in last month’s NBA Summer League as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, chipped in with 12 points and a team-high six assists.

Memphis Grizzlies two-way forward Yuta Watanabe, who is rehabbing an ankle injury suffered during a training camp in Nagoya earlier this month, was not listed on Japan’s 12-man roster for the game.

The two nations will face off again in another exhibition on Wednesday afternoon in Kawasaki.