Hachimura hoping to put Japan back on the world's basketball map
TOKYO (Japan) - Rui Hachimura broke new ground for Japanese basketball when he got drafted to the NBA, and he wants to break even more at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019.
"We want to put the country back on the world’s basketball map"
The past twelve months have been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old Japanese phenom. He helped carry Japan in qualifying to the World Cup, led Gonzaga University to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division 1 Tournament 2019 and a few days ago became the first Japanese player to be drafted in the NBA, and as a top 9 pick at that!
As such, he is the first Asian to be drafted in the top 10 since Yi Jianlian in 2007 and Yao Ming in 2002.
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Not surprisingly, Hachimura feels good that all his hard work seems to be paying off at this time and that he has finally taken the first big step to make his NBA dream a reality. That's in addition to his commitment to play for Japan and help the Akatsuki Five make a splash at the World Cup in China.
"I feel great, so great," he said. "The hard work is paying off, and I am so excited to see how things are going. Going to the NBA is a dream come true, and I am so excited for this summer, too. Going to play in the FIBA World Cup with my country is such a fantastic opportunity and I am really looking forward to it."
"Japan’s basketball is having a great moment, and we all want to help it grow," he added. "I am very happy to be part of this history, and I am going to keep working and learning to be the best player I can be. I know that a lot of people back home are following my career, and I am happy to feel the love of the entire country."
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Looking ahead to the World Cup, the 6ft 8in (2.03m) Hachimura knows that Japan's national team will be underdogs, especially in their group, which features Turkey, Czech Republic and no less than defending World Cup champions Team USA. Hachimura knows that Japan's having missed the last two World Cups means they will be among the least experienced squads at the competition, but that should not diminish their drive to succeed.
"Czech Republic and Turkey are very good teams that have players in the best leagues in the world, and Team USA…what else do we have to say about them?" he said with a laugh. "Playing against guys such as Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, oh man…it’s going to be so great. It’s going to be tough, but we are going to compete and try to show what we are made of."
When asked about what the national team's goal would be in China, Hachimura was honest and modest, putting emphasis on how they just need to play as hard as they can in every game and be bigger than the moment.
"We need to play every game of the first round with a lot of intensity and try to make it to the next one," he shared. "We aren’t among the teams that are favorites to go to the next round, but we are going to try to fight against some predictions. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s such a great window of opportunity for Japan and our basketball culture, so we can show the world our level of competitiveness and put the country back on the world’s basketball map."
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Hachimura is aware that a lot of pressure will be on the team to give a good account of themselves, especially after they put together an amazing 8-game winning streak in the final four windows of the Asian Qualifiers. The incoming NBA rookie wants to reward his countrymen's support with an inspired performance on the biggest stage of international hoops.
"This is historic for us, and we are all very excited for this summer to come," he said. "Our presence in the FIBA World Cup is also a huge boost for Japanese basketball, so the current dynamic is very good in all the aspects. We know that our games are going to be watched by a lot of people, and we already feel the support from all of our fans, since we reached our qualification a couple of months ago. I can’t wait to begin training camp and to get ready for this competition."
He expects that since China will be a short hop away from Japan's more than 6,800 islands, their games will likely be bursting at the seams with their own fans. The atmosphere, consequently, should be quite memorable, and Hachimura is expecting nothing less.
"I am really excited about this, and to know that people back home can also watch our games in an interesting time zone for them, without having to wake up at 3 in the morning," he beamed. "The arenas are going to be packed, a lot of people are going to show up and the environment is going to be fantastic. We are going to see many people waving Japanese flags in our games, and they are going to show us so much love as we saw during the qualifiers. They are our sixth man and I am sure that they are going to do a great job at it!"
Japan tip off their World Cup campaign on 1 September against Turkey before facing Czech Republic on 3 September. They close their Group E games against the Americans on 5 September. All of their group phase fixtures will be held at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center.