Gonzaga’s starting five at the NBA draft: Projected first-round picks Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, head coach Mark Few and assistant coaches Brian Michaelson and Tommy Lloyd.
The bench: Lloyd’s family, because a special occasion encourages comprehensive attendance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Thursday promises to be a historic night for Gonzaga’s program and Hachimura, who is expected to become the first Japanese-born player chosen in the first round of the draft.
Gonzaga has never had two first-round picks in the same draft. The Zags have produced seven first-rounders overall. Clarke and Hachimura should add two more names to that list, with Hachimura primed to reach another level of stardom in his homeland.
Lloyd was the driving force in Hachimura’s recruitment after first watching him play in November 2015. The two have become close through the 6-foot-8 forward’s three years in the program.
“I’m sure I’ll get (emotional) Thursday night when I’m watching it play out in front of my eyes,” Lloyd said. “There’s a reason we brought the whole family. It’s because Rui has become part of our family.
“You think about all the private conversations we’ve had, to help keep him going, to stick to it (when he was learning English and wasn’t playing much as a freshman). I give all the credit to Rui. He’s the one who lived it.
“It’s like watching one of your kids grow up and leave home. I’m ready for him to take his next step on a personal level, because I think he’s ready to do it. And I’m ready for the next project.”
Hachimura’s first exposure to basketball was in junior high, so he’s still relatively new to the sport. He has some rough edges to polish, but possesses an impressive blend of speed, strength and athleticism.
If his perimeter shooting continues to evolve as it did last season – he made 41.7% of just 36 3-point attempts – he could be a steal as a mid-first-round selection.
“It’s been crazy. I can’t even believe when I started to play basketball (in junior high), the coach (Mr. Sakamoto) pointed at me and said, ‘You’re going to the NBA,’ ” Hachimura told reporters Wednesday in New York. “At that time, I was stupid, but I believed him. He was for real, too. He was serious about it.”
Clarke has gone from virtual unknown to probable first-round pick. He posted great stats in two seasons away from the spotlight at San Jose State before opting to transfer.
After a redshirt year, Clarke put together one of the best seasons in program history, shooting nearly 69% while averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. He swatted 117 shots and was a finalist for national defensive player of the year.
“It just shows you there’s so many ways to get to this point,” Lloyd said. “There’s not one simple, direct path. Watching the way he handled himself with a smile on his face, and when you get to know him, the kid is just awesome. He put in the work.”
Gonzaga has had two players selected in the same draft twice; most recently in 2017 with lottery pick Zach Collins and second-rounder Nigel Williams-Goss.
That could change Thursday night. Wing Zach Norvell Jr. is listed as a second-round selection in several mock drafts. Point guard Josh Perkins has an outside chance of being drafted in the second round, but most expect he’ll go the free-agent route.
The top three picks appear set with Duke’s Zion Williamson at No. 1, Murray State’s Ja Morant at No. 2 and the Blue Devils’ RJ Barrett at No. 3.
From there, it’s not as defined, but likely top 10 picks include Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, North Carolina’s Coby White and Duke’s Cam Reddish. The Zags faced Duke, North Carolina and Texas Tech last season.
Hachimura and Clarke are expected to hear their names called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver in the 10-to-18 range. There isn’t a consensus on which Zag will be selected first, but Hachimura and Clarke will be in the green room surrounded by family and friends, ready to celebrate on a memorable night.
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