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Gonzaga extends television signal to Japan as Rui Hachimura continues to play prominent role on team

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, center, Josh Perkins, right, and Johnathan Williams  celebrate Saturday’s win over BYU. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga basketball recruiting is borderless and now its television footprint is beginning to go global.

Last Thursday’s Gonzaga-San Diego game was the first of four Zags contests to be televised on J Sports in Japan, via an agreement with Root Sports/KHQ through Metta Sport. The connection is Gonzaga sophomore forward Rui Hachimura, who has a huge following in his native Japan.

GU-San Diego and Thursday’s Gonzaga-Pacific game will be televised on a tape-delay basis and on over-the-top (OTT) platforms to 6.5 million households in Japan. Gonzaga’s home games vs. Loyola Marymount on Feb. 15 and Pepperdine on Feb. 17 will air live on J Sports, which is only available to subscribers in Japan.

“This is a great step for the continued growth and exposure for Gonzaga basketball worldwide,” Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said.

Japanese media have covered Hachimura at numerous Gonzaga games the past two seasons, including several at the McCarthey Athletic Center, the PK80 in Portland and road games in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

Interest in Hachimura, who has appeared on a few NBA mock drafts, is intense because Japan has only had one player make the NBA and there’s never been a Japanese-born player drafted. It’s believed Hachimura last season became the fifth Japanese native to play NCAA Division I basketball.

Gonzaga tracks the origin of clicks on highlight packages posted on its men’s basketball website and on YouTube.

“The No. 2 country behind the U.S. has been Japan,” said Todd Zeidler, assistant athletic director for communications.

Gonzaga games have been available on livestream for years. When Domantas Sabonis was becoming honorable mention All-American and a future lottery pick at Gonzaga, family and friends in his native Lithuania tuned into Zags games, usually at early-morning hours, on the internet.

“It’s crazy the number of people who would go online and watch his games,” Roth said.

Polish center Przemek Karnowski’s career at Gonzaga was followed closely in his homeland.

“There was definitely interest in Przemek in lots of places in Europe and in Poland,” Zeidler said. “Lithuania being a basketball-crazy country, there were a ton of clicks for Domantas on highlights we posted.”

Former GU greats Ronny Turiaf (France), Elias Harris (Germany), Kelly Olynyk (Canada), Sabonis and Karnowski helped Gonzaga win a lot of games and establish a niche in foreign recruiting. Gonzaga’s current roster includes Hachimura, Denmark’s Jacob Larsen, and France’s Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi.

Roth said Gonzaga is deliberately being cautious studying what would be permissible in terms of making Hachimura apparel available in Japan.

“We have to be careful from a compliance standpoint,” Roth said. “It’s one thing to have a Gonzaga jersey in Japan, which is some of the things our licensing and marketing people are working on, and another thing if it’s connected to Rui. We’re always going to err on the safe side.”

The Gonzaga-LMU game on Thursday, Feb. 15, begins at 6 p.m., which would be 11 a.m. Friday in Japan. Gonzaga-Pepperdine tips at 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, in Spokane, 10 a.m. Sunday in Japan.

“Rui is such a big star in Japan, I’m not sure any of us can comprehend how big he is there,” Roth said. “I’ve got to believe he’s excited about this and the opportunity for his friends and family and country to see him play live.”