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Hachimura better than last time he faced USA stars at U17
GLENDALE (FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017) - Rui Hachimura hopes to combine the experience from his last appearance on the global stage along with a historic run to the NCAA Tournament title game to become a leader for Japan at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2017.
The last time the world basketball community saw Hachimura was three summers ago when the Japanese star showed that he belonged on the court with two USA players currently in the NBA and six more expected to be chosen in the first round of this June’s NBA Draft.
Hachimura was the leading scorer at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2014 with 22.6 points a game to go with 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks. The Toyama native for example torched Italy for 35 points in an 83-56 loss. That performance came two days after Japan lost 122-38 to the United States - with Hachimura scoring 25 points.
The forward was the only Japanese player who belonged on the court as no other player scored more than two points against a USA team that included current NBA players Henry Ellenson and Diamond Stone as well as expected first round draft picks Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Terrance Ferguson, Caleb Swanigan and Harry Giles.
"I can play even better when I play against them next," Hachimura said looking back to the game in the United Arab Emirates. "It was a great experience. They are going to the NBA this year. I am catching up to them and I want to play against them in the NBA."
Hachimura went back to Japan and finished his high school at Meisei and then moved to the United States to attend Gonzaga University in Spokane.
Instead of playing at the FIBA U18 Asia Championship 2016, Hachimura stayed in the United States to work on assimilating himself into the culture. Hachimura appreciates the effort of his compatriots who finished second in Iran last summer to qualify for the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup for the first time since 1999. It was Japan’s first continental podium finish at the U18 group since back-to-back third place showings in 1996 and 1998.
"I really want to say congrats to my friends and coaches," said Hachimura, who was the ex-high school teammate of Yuki Mikami from the U18 team. "I am really happy about playing with him again."
Japan will face a major challenge in Cairo from 1-9 July when they take on Canada, Mali and Spain in Group C.
"It's a hard group. It’s going to be a big chance for me and the Japan national team. But it's going to be fun," Hachimura said. "This is the first time that Japan is at the U19 tournament since 1999 so it will be a big challenge. But we just want to play our best."
Hachimura will also be excited to finally play regularly after not getting much time on the court in his freshman season with Gonzaga - appearing in 28 of the team’s 39 games and averaging 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 4.6 minutes.
"I want to play at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup so I am preparing for the tournament. Hopefully I will be back in Japan in May. I want to play for the national team and then come back and play for Gonzaga," said Hachimura, whose best game of the season came against Mississippi Valley State on December 1 when he collected 10 points and 9 rebounds in 13 minutes.
Hachimura played in three NCAA Tournament games for the Bulldogs - picking up three points and one rebound in six total minutes of action in the First Found, Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. He also experienced the Final Four - Gonzaga’s first trip to the National Semi-Finals, which ended in the team’s loss in the final to North Carolina.
"I couldn't have imagined before coming to the US that I would be playing in the Final Four or in the NCAA Tournament at all. Now I am here and I’m very glad to be here. These are some crazy experiences. I don’t want to waste this time," said Hachimura, who is the first Japanese player to play in the NCAA Final Four.
Hachimura and the Gonzaga coaching staff all believe that he will play a major role on the team next season. The basketball itself was not the problem this season for the freshman but rather the language.
"It was the communication with the coaches and teammates during the basketball. I couldn’t understand anything - formations, defense, a play call," Hachimura admitted in an interview done in English.
Hachimura will understand everything his teammates say in Cairo and he will take the experiences from the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup and NCAA Tournament and be a leader in Cairo.