Like many others, Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura says that he could not have imagined anything like the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the NBA to suspend its season.
But the Japanese rookie appeared to be in good spirits during a live video chat hosted on the team’s official Twitter account on Tuesday night.
“It’s been crazy,” Hachimura said of the coronavirus that has thrown the world into crisis. “Obviously, I’ve never (gone through) stuff like that, never imagined things like that. But it is what it is and we have to stick together and help each other.”
The 22-year-old began the half-hour session in English before switching to Japanese midway through, looking relaxed as he took questions from fans and media representatives.
With access to gyms and arenas still prohibited for players as the NBA looks for a solution to resume its season, Hachimura said that he has attempted as best as he can to stay in shape, lifting weights and participating in team workouts through an online video system.
“It’s been great. It’s obviously good to work out,” said Hachimura, who in 41 games has averaged 13.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists in his first NBA campaign. “It’s also good to see my teammates and coaching staff through the Zoom (teleconferencing platform) and stuff. It’s always good to have fun, talk about different things.”
Asked what the hardest part of his first NBA season has been, Hachimura spoke of the tough schedule in the pro circuit, which involves far more games and frequent traveling than he experienced during his time at Gonzaga University.
Hachimura said that beyond the physical challenge, the packed schedule also inflicted a psychological toll.
“I think it’s more about the mental part,” he said. “You played last night and come back out today. And you have to move on, mentally, from whatever happened last night and focus on the next game.”
The 203-cm star of Japan’s Akatsuki Five named James Harden and Carmelo Anthony as players he’s struggled to guard since his debut last October. Harden scored 59 points in the Wizards’ home opener on Oct. 30, in which Houston edged Washington 159-158.
Amazed by the cleverness of Harden, Hachimura said the two-time NBA scoring leader knows “his own spots that he can score.” Anthony, who made his NBA comeback this season for the Portland Trail Blazers, is a player who inspired Hachimura when he started playing basketball in junior high school back in Toyama. Portland beat Washington 125-104 on March 4 — Anthony scored 25 while Hachimura had 11.
“He’s got the range for 3-point shooting, so if you give him space, he hits 3 pointers,” Hachimura said of the 35-year-old forward. “But when you get closer, he’s fast although he’s about the same height as me. So when you allow him to get past you, he could go for a dunk or (do something else). So he was difficult to guard.”
With some comparing him to Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard after last year’s draft — an assessment Wizards teammate Bradley Beal touched on in a recent episode of ESPN’s “The Lowe Post” podcast — Hachimura believes he can learn from the big man, who led the Toronto Raptors to last year’s NBA title.
“The first time I watched him play was when I came to college,” Hachimura said of Leonard. “My coaches told me there’s this player and to do stuff he does. I didn’t know about him before that, but I (grew) to like him and learned how to play, how to use your body by watching tapes.”
Hachimura believes that like Leonard, his versatility will be a key advantage toward becoming a better NBA player down the road.
“It’s been my strength that I can do many different things and whatever position I play at, I can make something positive out of it. And it’s no different in the NBA,” Hachimura said. “When I’m matching up with someone smaller than me, I can push him with my power, and when I’m matching up with someone bigger, I can use my speed and drive past him to get to underneath the basket. I think I’ve been able to do that in the NBA and hopefully, I’ll turn it into an even bigger strength.”
Hachimura responded to more casual questions as well — asked which B. League team he’d like to face in a preseason game, he suggested that a matchup between the Wizards and two-time reigning B. League champions Alvark Tokyo would be intriguing.
“(The Alvark) are one of the better teams in Japan and there are some players that I personally know,” he said. “But player-wise, (Chiba Jets Funabashi guard and Japan teammate) Yuki Togashi is the one that I’d like to have taken on, though.”
At the end of the session, Hachimura sent a message to his Japanese fans frustrated at the restrictions the pandemic has placed on their lives, urging them to stay positive.
“This is a period that makes me sit back and think of different things,” Hachimura said. “Right now, the NBA’s working on getting back (to playing). You have all gone through tough times, but hopefully we can keep sticking together and overcome this crisis.”
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