Rui Hachimura became the first player from Japan to get chosen in the first round of the NBA draft, taken with the No. 9 overall pick by the Washington Wizards on June 20 in New York.
The 21-year-old forward averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior at Gonzaga University, where he was the West Coast Conference player of the year.
“It is crazy. It is unreal. It means a lot for me, my family,” said Hachimura. “For Japan basketball, all my country, it’s a big thing.”
The only other Japanese player drafted in NBA history was Yasutaka Okayama, who went 171st overall in 1981. He never appeared in a regular-season game.
The 203-centimeter, 104-kilogram Hachimura is relatively new to basketball, having switched to the sport at age 13 after being a catcher in baseball.
In explaining why he wanted Hachimura, Wizards’ Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Tommy Sheppard mentioned his play for Japan’s national team.
“For Japan to qualify for the world championships, he’s the focal point. And when the (Tokyo) Olympics come in 2020, he’s going to be the focal point of that country on that basketball team,” Sheppard said. “To be able to shoulder that load at his age — the maturity he has — I think that’s going to bode well for him in the NBA.”
Soon after being drafted, Hachimura was asked what his goals are in the NBA.
“First of all, I want to play in the playoffs. Of course, I want to help the team. I want a championship,” Hachimura said. “I think that’s the one thing I want to accomplish here.” (AP, Kyodo)