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Special guest visits with Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura ahead of NCAA Tournament

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura (21) visits with Wataru "Wat" Misaka, a retired professional basketball player, after a practice leading up to the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura (21) visits with Wataru "Wat" Misaka, a retired professional basketball player, after a practice leading up to the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

SALT LAKE CITY – Great moments in the NCAA Tournament aren’t reserved just for the games.

Junior forward Rui Hachimura was greeted after Gonzaga’s shoot-around Wednesday by 95-year-old Wataru ‘Wat’ Misaka, the first player of Asian descent and the first non-white player in the NBA, known as the Basketball Association of America, when Misaka played in 1947-48.

Misaka, who has lived near Salt Lake City most of his life, provided a spot-on scouting report on Hachimura, who appears to be on track to become the first Japanese native to be drafted in the first round.

“It looks like he’s got all the tools,” Misaka said. “It’s exciting and I’m really wishing him all the luck in the world. He seems such a nice person besides being such a good athlete.”

The two visited for several minutes, Hachimura signed pictures for Misaka and they posed for photographers in a tunnel adjacent to the court at Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Misaka’s parents moved to the U.S. and he was born in Utah. He played for the University of Utah, helping the Utes win the 1944 NCAA title. He was later inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame.

Misaka played in three games, scoring seven points, for the New York Knicks.

Asked if it is exciting to see a Japanese player playing so well in the U.S., Misaka responded, “You bet. The last time I felt that much excitement was when I met Yao Ming. I had a couple of cases to have meetings with him.”

Misaka wasn’t sure if he would be able to attend Gonzaga’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I have a problem when I have to negotiate crowds and stuff. I have to talk to my sister, she’s my guardian, and we’ll see.”

Misaka attended a Golden State practice prior to a December game against the Jazz and visited with coach Steve Kerr and several players including Stephen Curry.

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