Japan praises Hachimura as new era of sport



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TOKYO – Japanese basketball, supporters and media officials praised Rui Hachimura's choice in the 2019 NBA draft, saying the move will usher in a new era for the sport in Japan.

Hachimura became the first player in Japan to be chosen in the first round of the NBA draft, drawn with the No. 9 pick by Washington Wizards on Thursday.

"The birth of Hachimura from the NBA, a big step for Japan," read the headline in the online edition of the Nikkansports newspaper.

The 6-foot-8.25-pound forward scored an average of 19.7 points in the team's lead and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior in Gonzaga, where he was the player of the year at the West Coast Conference.

The only other Japanese player entered in NBA history was Yasutaka Okayama, who ranked 171st overall in 1981. He never appeared in a regular-season game, something only two players in the country did: Yuta Tabuse for the Phoenix Suns in 2004 -05 and Yuta Watanabe for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19.

"The fact that Hachimura, a product of the Japanese basketball system, has been selected in the NBA draft, makes us very proud," said Yuko Mitsuya of the Japanese Basketball Federation.

Although it has grown in popularity with the introduction of a professional league in 2005, basketball is still far behind baseball and soccer in Japan.

The HBA's career at Hachimura will certainly help the sport grow by leaps and bounds.

Son of a Japanese mother and father of the Republic of Benin, Hachimura is the latest Japanese mixed race professional to succeed in the sports world, following names like Naomi Osaka and Yu Darvish.

"This is a big step for Japan," said Keisuke Tsutsumi, an office worker who follows the NBA. "It will take the sport to a new level here."

Hachimura High School Coach Joji Sakamoto received news of his selection of drafts.

Sakamoto trained Hachimura in his home province of Toyama and said he saw potential in his student from an early age.

"I told him to visualize his dream and now it will be a reality," said Sakamoto, 59.

Japan's Education Minister Masahiko Shibayama said Hachimura had given hope to a generation of young players in his home country.

"It's really wonderful," Shibayama said. "By taking on a prominent role in a league that is difficult for Japanese players to enter, it will give hope to many Japanese."

Hachimura's rise could not come at a better time, with Tokyo building to host the 2020 Olympics. Japan's men's national team qualified as host country, and Hachimura could play an important role in the Olympics and the World Cup in China at the end of this year.

Wizards interim general manager Tommy Sheppard mentioned the 21-year play for Japan.

"For Japan to qualify for the world championships, it is the focal point. [Tokyo] The Olympics will come in 2020, it will be the focal point of that country on the basketball team, "said Sheppard. To be able to afford this burden at his age – the maturity he has – I think that will bode well. for him in the NBA ".

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