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Forward Rui Hachimura returning to Gonzaga for junior season

UPDATED: Sun., April 8, 2018, 6:57 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura (21) vies for a rebound in a crowd during the loss to Florida State. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura (21) vies for a rebound in a crowd during the loss to Florida State. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Rui Hachimura provided an answer to one of Gonzaga’s biggest offseason questions.

The talented forward announced Sunday he will return for his junior season with the Zags.

“I’m excited to come back to Gonzaga next season,” Hachimura said in a school news release. “I appreciate everything I have learned from the coaching staff, and look forward to learning more and growing my game.”

Hachimura’s emergence this season, coupled with his impressive physical ability, put the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder on several NBA mock drafts. SI.com’s latest projections listed Hachimura as the 18th pick of the first round, but that opinion wasn’t unanimous. Some mock drafts didn’t have Hachimura being selected in the first or second rounds.

Hachimura’s return helps solidify Gonzaga’s frontcourt next season. He’s joined by San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke, rising sophomore Jacob Larsen and incoming freshman Fillip Petrusev.

Forward Killian Tillie hasn’t announced if he’s returning or testing NBA waters. Tillie isn’t as highly ranked on mock drafts as Hachimura but the 6-10 French native was pegged as a late first-rounder by Yahoo Sports. If Tillie comes back, the Zags would have an experienced and versatile collection of bigs.

The 6-8 Clark was first-team All-Mountain West Conference as a sophomore. Larsen is a promising 6-11 center. The 6-10 Petrusev started on an undefeated Montverde Academy team that finished No. 1 in the USA Today’s prep rankings.

Hachimura went from seeing limited time mostly in blowouts as a freshman to becoming a key player on GU’s 32-win squad as a sophomore. He averaged 11.6 points in 20.7 minutes and led the Zags at 12.9 points in WCC games. He earned first-team All-WCC honors and was second-team All-District 9.

Hachimura experienced highs and lows in three NCAA Tournament games. He struggled against a physical UNC Greensboro frontcourt, scoring just four points on 1-of-6 shooting. He rebounded to pour in a career-high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting against Ohio State. He added 16 points and nine rebounds in a Sweet 16 setback versus Florida State.

Hachimura’s defense, particularly his on-ball defense, progressed throughout the season. He occasionally guarded opposing point guards, including Saint Mary’s Emmett Naar and San Diego’s Isaiah Wright, and was able to handle centers after switching on ball screens.

Hachimura posted five 20-point games with most of his damage coming in the lane or in transition. He showed his midrange game and shot nearly 80 percent at the free-throw line, but misfired beyond the 3-point arc (5 of 26). He would elevate his NBA stock considerably with additional polish on his post moves and a dependable 3-point shot.

Still, there’s no denying Hachimura has huge upside. ESPN.com projects him as a lottery pick in a 2019 draft that isn’t considered particularly strong.

Hachimura, whose mother is Japanese and father is from the West African country Benin, has already made history in two seasons at Gonzaga. As a freshman, he became just the fifth Japanese player to appear in an NCAA Division I game and the first to participate in the NCAA Tournament.

He is on track to become the first Japanese-born player in the NBA Draft, but that is on hold for at least one more season.

“I’m excited to have another season with my teammates in front of Zag nation,” Hachimura said.


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