For Washington Wizards rookie forward Rui Hachimura, joining his team to prepare for the resumption of the NBA season in Orlando in a few weeks was a no-brainer.
The 22-year-old Japanese told reporters in a Zoom call Friday, that he’s worried about competing amid the COVID-19 pandemic but his desire to get back on the court exceeded his unease.
“I think every player has (worries),” said Hachimura, who was selected by the Wizards in the first round of last year’s draft. “Not that I have a child, but there are so many players that have their families and children, and I imagine what I would do if I were in their situations.
“I want to place my health as my top priority. But I’ve definitely wanted to play and wanted to take advantage of every chance available. So I’ve wanted to play from the beginning.”
After missing 23 of the Wizards’ 64 games this year due to a groin injury, Hachimura is hoping to gain as much experience as he can and would love to prolong the season by reaching the playoffs.
“I haven’t really thought that I have played through the season, which consists of (82) games,” said the Gonzaga University product, who is averaging 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds. “I want to work on the chemistry with the team more and there’s still room for me to improve. In fact, I want to get into the remainder of the season and playoffs with the defensive side of the ball as my issue.”
The 203-cm forward has been working to improve other parts of his game during the NBA’s hiatus, which began March 11. He said he’s working on his 3-point and midrange shooting as well as his ball handling.
Hachimura has also been working out in Los Angeles during the stoppage and is looking forward to showcasing more of his physicality. He said he’s gained about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) since the season was suspended.
“I’ve gotten bigger. I haven’t played against other players at all yet, but I think I can show I’m physically ready and I’m looking forward to it,” said Hachimura, adding that he’s motivated to play as long as possible.
The 2020 season will resume on June 30 in Orlando with 22 teams. Each will play eight regular-season games before the top eight in each conference begin the postseason.
The Wizards, who are 24-40 and currently sit ninth in the Eastern Conference, 5½ games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic, will be without core stars including John Wall, who hasn’t played this season, and Davis Bertans. On Wednesday, Bradley Beal said he was undecided about playing.
In a Zoom call Tuesday, Washington head coach Scott Brooks expressed satisfaction over the work Hachimura put in during the stoppage and said he expects him “to get better every day” for the rest of the campaign.
“I love what I’ve seen,” said Brooks, whose team will take on the Phoenix Suns in its first game back on Aug. 1. “He’s taken the time off seriously and he was on every Zoom call, he was getting the report card and punctuality. He would get an ‘A’ like a lot of our players, if not all of our players. We are very lucky that way.”
Brooks continued: “With Rui, we want him to improve his game, improve his defense, improve his rebounding, and improve his ball handling, improve his decision-making. And we feel that he’s good enough to be able to improve all areas in the game, not just one thing.”
Meanwhile, on June 19, Hachimura joined his Wizards teammates and players from the Washington Mystics on a march through the streets of Washington to raise awareness of racial justice. Hachimura said it was his first time participating in that type of demonstration.
“Obviously, racism is not a good thing,” he said. “You’ve got to stop doing that, you’ve got to stop it. As a team, I think we did a good thing. We represent D.C. and it was a great thing to do.”