Rui Hachimura, A Rising Basketball Star

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Rui Hachimura at Gonzaga

For many of you, we are late and you already know that Rui Hachimura is an rising basketball star! However we would venture to say that as of the end of 2018, even more people have no knowledge of Rui Hachimura and how good a basketball player he is now or will be in the future! Rui who is 6’8″ (203 cm) and 230 lb (104 kgs), currently plays for Gonzaga University, one of the top college basketball teams in the US, and barring injuries, he is widely considered to be a top NBA draft prospect in 2019! In many ways, Rui Hachimura is to Japanese basketball what Naomi Osaka is to Japanese women’s tennis!

Rui Hachimura family in Japan
Rui Hachimura family in Japan

Rui was born in 1998 in the Toyama prefecture of Japan to a Beninese father and Japanese mother. In his childhood, he played baseball which is very popular in Japan. Rui was a pitcher, but his throwing arm was so strong that most of his Japanese teammates could not catch his fastball – it was too fast! After growing frustrated with baseball, in middle school Rui switched from baseball to basketball. This turned out to be a great decision!

Rui Hachimura in Japan

In high school, Rui clearly became the top high school basketball player in Japan leading his Meisei HS team from Sendai to three straight All Japan High School Championships! Rui was also a top player on Japan’s Under 17 and Under 19 teams in FIBA international competition. In his senior year in 2015, Rui was the only Japanese player invited to the Jordan Brand Classic, which is an All-Star game featuring all of the most highly recruited high school players worldwide. During his high school time, ESPN named Rui as one of the top 5 international high school basketball players with the ability to play NCAA basketball.

Rui was heavily recruited by Arizona, Gonzaga, LSU, Iowa State, and Vanderbilt, however he selected Gonzaga in part due to Spokane, Washington having a similar climate and terrain to Toyoma which made him feel more at home. Rui also really liked the Gonzaga basketball program and the fact that they had recruited international players in the past.

In 2016, Rui moved to Spokane to attend Gonzaga, however, his first year was mainly spent on improving his English and adjusting to life in the USA. In his first year at Gonzaga, his coaches estimated that Rui maybe understood only 10% of their coaching, and all of Rui’s extra English tutoring seriously cut into his practice time. In his freshman year, Rui mainly played at the end of games averaging 4.6 minutes per game and 2.6 points per game – not much to write home about. Even so, Rui became only the fifth Japanese person to ever play NCAA Division I basketball.

In Rui’s sophomore year, he played in all 37 games, starting in two of the games, and averaging 20 minutes per game. Rui shot 57% from the field, averaged 11.6 points per game and had a season high 25 points and 4 blocks in a game against Ohio State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. With his English comprehension still improving, his coaches really started to work on Rui’s presence and aggressiveness on the court – transitioning him to the rough and tumble American style of play. Rui caught on quick and despite coming off the bench most of the season, he was named to the All West Coast Conference First Team. Rui flirted with going to the NBA early after his sophomore year, but ultimately decided to stay with Gonzaga.

Rui Hachimura Gonzaga scream

Now in his junior year at Gonzaga, through December of the 2018 season, Rui is leading the team averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. His English comprehension is now over 90% and his style of play is much more American-like now with Rui actually shutting down some of his big man opponents defensively on one end and slamming home some flashy dunks on the other end.

As of the end of 2018, out of over 4,500 NCAA Division I basketball players, Rui was ranked 24th in points per game with 22 points per game, 1st in field goal percentage for players averaging 20 or more points per game and 15th in field gold percentage for players averaging 15 or more points per game at 59%. Rui also shoots 45% from the 3 point line and 75% from the free throw line.

In basketball circles, there is tremendous talk of Rui being drafted in the 2019 NBA draft with some sports outlets forecasting that he could go as high as the 5th pick in the first round of the draft. The NBA scouting reports for Rui are very good. Here are the things that the scouts really like about Rui’s game:

  • Good size at 6’8″ and 230 lbs
  • Runs the court well and often finishes plays in transition or on fast break
  • Has a great knack for making game winning shots or plays
  • Strong offense off the low post
  • Makes very good passes in the half court sets creating easy buckets for his teammates
  • Very rarely forces his offense and will instead find the open teammate
  • Defensively he does not leave his feet early which keeps his fouls fairly low at only 2.4 fouls per game
  • Decent rebounder at about 7 rebounds per game
  • High percentage shooter at 59% from the field

The things that the scouts want Rui to work on are notching up his aggressive play even further – defensively taking away more of his opponent’s space, going stronger to the board when he is close to the basket to have less of his close in shots blocked, and more aggressively seeking out the ball on offense. All of these things will come as Rui plays more American style basketball.

While it is better for Rui to not to get ahead of himself and to instead focus on the task at hand with Gonzaga, if Rui were drafted into the NBA, he would be only the 3rd Japanese NBA player and the 1st Japanese player drafted into the NBA.

There have only been two Japanese players in the history of the NBA. The first was Yuta Tabuse, who played for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004, after he went undrafted in 2002, coming out of BYU-Hawaii. Tabuse only played in 4 games for the Suns averaging 1.8 points per game. He also played in the ABA and the NBA D-league before moving to Japan to play professionally in Japan.

The second Japanese player to make it to the NBA was Yuta Watanabe. After going undrafted out of George Washington in 2018, Watanabe played for the Memphis Grizzlies D-league team before playing briefly for the Grizzlies NBA team for 3 games and averaging 1.3 points per game. However, Watanabe is now back with the Grizzlies D-league team.  So Rui would be the first Japanese player drafted into the NBA and the first Japanese player to be a potential NBA star!

Rui Hachimura Dunk

Gonzaga’s basketball team which Rui Hachimura leads has been ranked in the top 10 NCAA Division I teams all season long and at times has been ranked the #1 team this season. So in all likelihood, Rui Hachimura and Gonzaga will easily make the March Madness NCAA Tournament in early 2019 – maybe even as a #1 or #2 seed in their region of the brackets. If Gonzaga does well in the tournament, Rui’s NBA prospects will likely skyrocket. Even if Gonzaga just does ok, Rui will still likely do well in the NBA draft in June 2019. It will be exciting to watch Rui finish this season with Gonzaga and then prepare for the very real possibility of being the first Japanese player drafted into the NBA with real star potential! Get ready for Rui-mania!

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