Hachimura proving he's a Wizard at the worlds
Drafted ninth overall by Washington, hotshot Japanese has a magic touch
SHANGHAI - Rui Hachimura believes his game has grown this summer.
He definitely knows his confidence has.
It's 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 at the World Cup on Tuesday meant Hachimura and his team cannot advance to the second round and will finish no better than 17th in the 32-team tournament, but he still sees plenty of upside to his summer.
"It's been crazy," Hachimura said. "I got drafted, went to DC and we had like a mini-camp, then summer league and now the World Cup. It's been a crazy summer, but I've been having fun with this experience.
"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 Team USA on Thursday - but the stage has not seemed too big for Hachimura.
The 6-foot-9 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."
Hachimura's talent was on obvious display in the 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.
"Rui's got a lot of talent," said Nick Fazekas, Japan's US-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 the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets to Japan for a pair of preseason games in October - 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.
"The World Cup has been a great learning experience, a great way to test myself."
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