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Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura blazes a path for Japanese players

UPDATED: Thu., March 30, 2017, 8:36 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Rui Hachimura enjoys his time in the locker room, March 30, 2017, at University of Phoenix Stadium. On the wall behind him is a mural of the Zags after winning the West Region Championship in Jan Jose, California. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Rui Hachimura enjoys his time in the locker room, March 30, 2017, at University of Phoenix Stadium. On the wall behind him is a mural of the Zags after winning the West Region Championship in Jan Jose, California. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Rui Hachimura hasn’t seen much court time this season, but he’s still one of Gonzaga’s most interviewed players.

The freshman forward is believed to be the fifth Japanese native to play NCAA Division I basketball. Japanese media have chronicled his season during visits to the McCarthey Athletic Center and at numerous Gonzaga road games in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

“Most Japanese people know me,” Hachimura said, “but only in Japan.”

There is hope in his homeland that Hachimura can become the second Japanese player to make the NBA. The first was Yuta Tabuse, who played in four games with Phoenix in 2004.

Hachimura, an athletic 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Sendai, is the first Japanese player to make the NCAA tournament.

He’s made the most of his limited minutes with highlight reel dunks, blocks or 3-pointers.

“He’s right where we thought he could be,” Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “He’s made big progress to the point where once the season is over and we all get away and take a break, and he does to and goes back to his national team, when he comes back I think he’s going to be ready to be a main player for us.”

Hachimura has scored 73 points in 128 minutes. He ranks just behind Zach Collins for the highest points-per-minute ratio of Zags who have played at least 100 minutes. Hachimura has played six minutes in the NCAA Tournament, including a rare first-half aprearance against West Virginia.

“Throughout this year I improved my mental approach,” said Hachimura, who missed extensive practice time in the first half of the season to attend English courses. “Like how to prepare for the game and how to keep motivation.”

Hachimura’s recruitment to GU sprouted after a Japanese coach years ago visited Gonzaga practices for roughly a month.

“We built some relationships,” coach Mark Few said. “Then when they called and told us about him, we started watching tape and he was a prospect.”

A prospect with “huge upside,” Few added.

Hachimura’s mom and sister are traveling to Phoenix for the Final Four.

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