WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 rebuilding Washington Wizards on Thursday night.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior at Gonzaga, where he was the West Coast Conference player of the year.
“It means a lot for me, for my family,” Hachimura said. “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, something just two players from the country have done: Yuta Tabuse for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05, and Yuta Watanabe for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19.
Hachimura said he heard about his new home from Watanabe, a teammate with Japan’s national team who went to college in D.C. at George Washington.
“I heard a lot of good things about the city,” Hachimura said, “so I can’t wait to be there.”
He 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 interim general manager Tommy Sheppard mentioned the 21-year-old’s 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.