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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Gonzaga standout Rui Hachimura one of Japan’s flag-bearers for opening ceremonies

Rui Hachimura is welcomed back as he makes a surprise return during Senior Night in Feb., 2020, at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Hachimura left Gonzaga after his junior season to enter the 2019 NBA Draft.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Former Gonzaga standout Rui Hachimura was selected as one of Japan’s flag-bearers for the opening ceremonies ofthe Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Hachimura and two-time world champion wrestler Susaki Yui will carry the Japanese flag and lead the host nation’s 582 athletes into Olympic Stadium on July 23. This is the first time in Olympics history that each participating country will have a male and female flagbearer.

Hachimura, who was born in Toyama and didn’t start playing basketball until middle school, is one of Japan’s most popular athletes. He was selected ninth overall by the Washington Wizards in the 2019 NBA draft, becoming the first Japanese-born player taken in the first round.

The 23-year-old Hachimura will lead Japan’s basketball team, which is competing in the Olympics for the first time since 1976 in Montreal. He was officially named to Japan’s roster Sunday.

“The Tokyo Olympics is the stage I’ve always dreamed of,” said Hachimura, whose mom is Japanese and his dad is Beninese. “I am very honored to have such a big role.

“Your health and safety are our top priorities right now, but I hope that many people, including children all over Japan, will take this opportunity to watch the performance of my teammates and myself nationwide during the Olympic Games.”

Hachimura added that he hopes more Japanese people will become interested in basketball and sports.

Hachimura, who barely spoke any English when he arrived at Gonzaga, emerged as an All-American in his junior season when he averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. He helped the Zags (33-4) reach the Elite Eight.

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds while earning NBA All-Rookie second-team honors in 2020. He bumped his scoring average to 13.8 points last season.