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Land of the Rising Hachimura
TOKYO (Japan) - The name of the game is putting the ball in the basket and Rui Hachimura does it as well as anyone in international basketball.
He's been pouring in points by the truckload for Japan since his junior national team days, when he was either first or second in the scoring charts at the biggest tournaments.
He led the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship for Men at 22.6 points per game, which was sandwiched between a couple of events - the 2013 FIBA Asia U16 Championship for Men and the 2017 FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup - when he was second overall in scoring average.
Whenever Japan coaches have put the 2.04m (6'8") forward into games, it's as if the Kurobe Dam, in Hachimura's native Toyama, has burst. The points have flowed! With Japan's senior team at the Tokyo Olympics, only Ricky Rubio's 25.5 points per game and Luka Doncic's 23.8 ppg were more than Hachimura's (and Australia's Pat Mills) 22.3 ppg.
Scoring in bunches has been harder at the higher level. Yet Hachimura has matured, honed his craft and still put the ball in the basket. He has also continued his development as a solid rebounder, passer and defender. Here's a look at his journey.
- 'The Evolution of' is a new format where FIBA will break down the journey of active players through their debuts at an early stage in of their careers up until now. Let's check how they performed in Youth Events and let's see how their skillsets and bodies have grown over the years. A fascinating drive down Memory Lane, leading up to great expectations for the future.
- If you like this content, please make sure to check this one: The Evolution of Jonas Valanciunas, the journey of Lithuania's dominant center.
A new kid on the block
Hachimura had 25 points against USA at the U17 World Championship in Dubai
Though a work in progress at the U17 World Championship in 2014, he flashed his scoring potential in most games and made sure everyone had heard of him by the end of the tournament. In five of Japan's seven games, Hachimura scored 22 or more points.
The Japanese were completely overmatched in a Round of 16 game (video above) against a USA team that had future NBA star Jayson Tatum, yet Hachimura poured in 25 points. He also wowed onlookers with 22 against a good Australia team, 27 against France and 35 against against Italy.
Scoring at will around the basket in Cairo
Hachimura had a reputation for being nearly unstoppable in the lane and from 2-point range overall by the time he reached Cairo in 2017 for the FIBA U19 World Championship because at previous youth team events, he balled out! And he reinforced it against every opponent in Egypt while racking up six double-doubles in points and rebounds in seven games. The only team he didn't get a double-double against was Korea, which Hachimura had 9 rebounds to go with his 21 points.
The Toyoma-born star scored with layups, put-backs, short jumpers, driving slams and alley-oop dunks. He wreaked havoc, yet did so with flair. His jams weren't ferocious, yet graceful. He hit 53.3% (40 of 65) of his attempts inside the arc. Physically, he had matured into an unstoppable force, both quick and powerful.
The emerging threat from deep
Hachimura's ability to consistently knock down long jump shots raised a lot of eyebrows in Cairo, where he buried 8 of 25 (32%) from deep and hit some others just a step or two inside the arc . He wasn't just good, but breathtakingly so. He pulled up on fast breaks, made catch-and-shoot 3-balls and drilled long jumpers off the dribble. Hachimura also revealed he had the ability to knock down a clutch trey, burying one with less than three seconds to play against Italy to knot the score at 55-55.
Rui the helper
Hachimura's passing ability was equally eye-opening by the time he arrived in Egypt. He made diagonal bounce passes on the break, no-look throws and even showed razzmatazz in crowded lanes. Just look at spinning Hachimura's assist (in the video above) against Puerto Rico! He was mesmerizing.
A young sultan of swat
At the U19 World Championship in Egypt, Hachimura revealed another aspect of his game that proved he was headed for the big time. He raised his hands and got steals and deflections. He protected the rim, and also rejected shooters on the perimeter! Hachimura finished with 10 blocks.
Showing he's got it against the big boys
No one doubted Hachimura would make the transition from youth national team to the senior side. What may have caught onlookers by surprise was how he did it so easily. Looking like he'd put on more muscle by the time he played in four FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers games. He had 24 points against both Australia and Kazakhstan and 25 against Iran as Japan booked their spot in the World Cup. He was ready to take on anybody.
Setting up his teammates in the 2019 Qualifiers
What was also striking about Hachimura in his first several outings with the senior team was how he seemed to always make the right play, and that could mean not scoring but giving the ball up to a teammate ahead on the break or one that was posting up inside. His best game from an assist standpoint was three against Iran.
Rui's dazzling D
What was encouraging for all Japanese fans to see what Hachimura's defense in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. He was like a cat watching its prey before pouncing for a steal, or going up and swatting the ball off the backboard. If Rui was nearby, he was always a threat to make a stop and get Japan quickly into transition.
More slamming and jamming in China
By 2019 at the World Cup in Shanghai, where he played not long after becoming the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, Hachimura clearly had matured into vicious slam dunker. In the the three games that he played, against Turkey, the Czech Republic and the USA, he took a lot of anger out on the rim while averaging 13.3 points per game.
The turnaround, fadeaway jumper
Hachimura only attempted four three-pointers at the World Cup and missed them all, yet he showed another wrinkle to his game that was impressive. He showed he'd been working on his turnaround, fadeaway jumper. If he wasn't beating defenders and getting to the rim, he looked comfortable taking a difficult shot that no opponent was going to block.
Passing when required in China
The teams that Hachimura faced at the World Cup were very good, especially on defense. Saddled with the reputation of being his team's biggest threat on offense, Hachimura had to make the smart play, which often meant passing to cutters when double-teamed or giving the ball up on fast breaks.
Opportunistic on defense
Hachimura wasn't credited with any blocks at the World Cup but he did affect shots. Where he excelled was capitalizing on bad passes by coming up with steals and getting into transition. He also anticipated well when passes were made into the paint and knocked them away so Japan could get out and run.
Rui is still only 24 years old. The Japanese national team that finished 11th in the Olympic tournament in Tokyo will host the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. The next step of his evolution as a star player is to become a leader and to carry his country to new heights. An entire nation counts on him.
The Evolution of Rui Hachimura is not over yet.