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Rui Hachimura wants to be the face of Japan basketball

TOKYO (Japan) - Japan basketball has made a lot of headway over the past year, and standing at the vanguard is none other than rising star Rui Hachimura.

At 6ft 8in (2.03m), Hachimura is an easy choice for a center in the realm of Japan hoops, where size is scarce. But, given his sublime skill-set, the 21-year-old Gonzaga Bulldog has become a rare hybrid unprecedented in Japanese basketball history. Not surprisingly, he has seized the imagination of fans both in the East Asian country and beyond.


Hachimura was recently named West Coast Conference (WCC) Player of the Year in the US NCAA and also received the prestigious Julius Erving Award as the top collegiate small forward. Not bad for a kid who didn't play organized basketball until junior high school.

He first got serious about baseball but, at the urging of one of his teammates, he started training for his school's basketball team. Right off the bat, his coach saw the glowing potential in him.

"My junior high (school) coach, the first time I practiced, he told me to my face, 'You're going to the NBA,'" Hachimura recalled. "I was young, I was stupid, so I believed him: 'Yeah, I'm going to the NBA!'"

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Fast-forward to 2019 and Hachimura is, indeed, bound for the bright lights of the NBA, but even more importantly, he's set to debut on the biggest stage of international basketball at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.

The 21-year-old was the Akatsuki Five's most potent weapon in the Asian Qualifiers, averaging 21.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game while also shooting close to 58 percent from the field as Japan won their last eight games to mark their return at the World Cup after a 13-year absence.

The winning streak lit a fire in Japanese basketball fans and the national team's supporters, who filled each home game venue to the rafters. That isn't lost on Hachimura, who is excited to see the game's growth in his home country continue to explode in the near future.

"Basketball's getting bigger in Japan and I want to be the guy, the face of it," he declared. "I'm so excited about it. I want to be the guy who can be the whole well-rounded athlete for Japan."

Japanese fans have been keeping a close eye on Hachimura especially as he continues to garner accolades left and right and embraces his role as the preeminent ambassador of Japanese hoops. They're also waiting with bated breath for the 2019 NBA Draft, where Hachimura could be the first Japanese lottery pick in history.

"Shoe companies tell me I'm going to be big," he shared. "It's a bit of pressure. People expect me to be great, but it's not a big deal for me. I just have to do whatever I can on the basketball court and the rest will take care of itself."

Japan's World Cup campaign will see them play in Group E, going up against reigning world champions USA and European sides Turkey and Czech Republic. The Akatsuki Five tip their tournament off on September 1 against Turkey followed by a game against Czech Republic on September 3. They close their group play against the Americans on September 5. All their games will be played at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.