SHANGHAI – Rui Hachimura believes his game has grown this summer. He knows his confidence has.
It has been a hectic and nonexistent offseason for the soon-to-be Washington Wizards rookie — he was drafted No. 9 overall in June, played NBA summer league in July and has been with the Japanese national team since. Japan’s 89-76 loss to the Czech Republic on Tuesday meant Hachimura and his team cannot advance to the second round and will finish no better than 17th at this 32-team World Cup, but he’s still seeing plenty of upside to his summer.
“It’s been crazy,” Hachimura said. “I got drafted, went to D.C. and we had like a minicamp, then summer league and now the World Cup. It’s been a crazy summer, but I’ve been having fun with this experience, this process. I’ve played a lot of games this summer, everywhere. I don’t know how much I grew, but I have more confidence.”
Japan might be winless in its two World Cup games — and has a matchup against the U.S. looming Thursday — but the stage has not seemed too big for Hachimura. The 6-foot-9 (206 cm) forward has averaged 18 points so far on 50 percent shooting, while adding 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard made the trip to Asia to watch Hachimura in person, going to Japan first for the pre-tourney games and then following the team to China.
“He’s going to be a really nice player in the NBA,” Sheppard said. “He’s got a lot — a lot — of upside. He’s got a lot of learning to do, but he’s got excellent skill and excellent will. … It just takes time, and we have to develop that.”
Hachimura’s talent was on obvious display in Las Vegas at summer league, where he averaged 19.3 points on 50 percent shooting in three games. He scored 31 points in Japan’s pre-World Cup win over Germany — a game attended by nearly 20,000 at the Saitama Super Arena last month — and already has captured his homeland’s attention, as evidenced by the many Japanese fans who made the trip to China.
“Rui’s got a lot of talent,” said Nick Fazekas, Japan’s U.S.-born center. “He works hard, but he has a lot of fun.”
Basketball is growing in Japan for many reasons. The Tokyo Olympics are less than a year away, and the NBA — in a move that should build Olympic buzz — is sending Toronto and Houston to Japan for a pair of preseason games in October. Those will be the first NBA games in Japan since 2003.
And it won’t take much for Hachimura, the West Coast Conference’s player of the year last season at Gonzaga, to become the best Japan-born player in NBA history. He’s the first Japanese player to be a first-round pick and the only two players from the country to appear in an NBA game are Yuta Tabuse in 2004-05 and Hachimura’s World Cup teammate Yuta Watanabe last season.
Combined, Tabuse and Watanabe have 46 points in 19 NBA games, all off the bench.
“I’m just excited for the season,” Hachimura said.
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