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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Former Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura shines in NBA debut: ‘This is just the beginning’

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 24, 2019

By Steve Hunt For The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – The tale of the tape from Rui Hachimura’s NBA debut Wednesday in Dallas was impressive: 14 points and 10 rebounds over nearly 25 minutes for Washington in a 108-100 loss.

But Hachimura, the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA draft after three standout seasons at Gonzaga, didn’t want to talk numbers after this loss.

“We lost the game. This is just the beginning,” he said. “It is what is, and we have two more games (on this road trip).”

Hachimura was in the starting five for Washington and looked perfectly at home. Earlier in the day, after morning shoot-around, he was surrounded by around 25 media members from Japan, and did two media sessions, one in English and another in Japanese.

“It’s been like this since I’ve been in high school, so it’s not a big deal to me,” Hachimura said of the large contingent of Japanese media following his every move.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees that exposure as a huge positive for the organization.

“I think it’s cool. He’s obviously earned this position that he’s in,” Brooks said. “He’s played a lot of great basketball back in Japan and in college at Gonzaga, and he’s going to do the same for us. He’s a big part of our foundation. I’m thrilled to work with him and get him better as this year goes on. He plays the right way and he plays hard. These are the players that the league, myself and the team wants to promote: guys that play hard, play the right way and play for the team. He’s a great ambassador, not only for us but for the global sport of basketball.”

One subject Hachimura was quick to discuss was his time at Gonzaga and being the latest Zag to reach the NBA.

“At Gonzaga, I stayed three years. I told them (the fans) I want to go to the NBA,” he said. “I could have gone last year, but I stayed one more year. I made it to the league. This is a very official day, my first game, so I’m so excited about it.”

He also offered his thoughts on the California law passed in September that would allow amateur athletes to be paid.

“That would be crazy,” Hachimura said. “I’ve got a couple endorsement deals right now, but if we had them in college, it’d be great. too. I could help my family way before (I turned pro). But it is what it is. I’m making money right now.”

Brooks has coached plenty of great players on an NBA bench such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with Oklahoma City and Bradley Beal and John Wall with the Wizards. As he sees Hachimura beginning his NBA career, there’s plenty to like.

“Just his maturity (stands out),” Brooks said after morning shoot-around. “He just gives you great effort every day. Not one time have I said it out loud or even to myself, Rui has to play harder or Rui has to get back, Rui has to contest. He just has a great feel (for everything). His maturity really stands out.”

After Hachimura’s debut was in the books, his head coach offered further praise not only for his double-double but that the ex-Zag was more focused on the Wizards losing to the Mavericks.

“He plays with so much poise. He’s a winner,” Brooks said. “He’s going to continue to be that. That’s not going to change. He has that DNA. This was a great first game. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but he played exactly how I thought he was going to play. And I know that he wants to play better, but that’s what I like about him. He’s not satisfied having 14 and 10 and losing. He’s about winning, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

During his media scrum Wednesday morning, there was one humorous moment as a veteran teammate presented Hachimura with two pairs of shoes he was tasked with putting away and carrying to the team bus.

But the affable Hachimura embraces this and other rookie rites of passage as part of his paying dues in the NBA and to his teammates.

“Yeah, (I do) this kind of stuff, shoes,” he said. “Have to get food before we get on the plane and stuff. It’s cool, though.”

His NBA career is just beginning, but hearing his coach and teammates talk about him, Hachimura and the Wizards are already a great fit. Just ask one of his veteran teammates.

“He’s a quick learner,” Beal said. “He’s able to grasp things on the fly and put them into action very quickly, which is something you admire out of rookies and something you kind of hope and expect out of them at the same time. So far, so good.”

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.

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