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The unknown that is Rui Hachimura

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The great hope for Japanese basketball looks to take the next step

Gonzaga is a program known to go anywhere not only to play, but also to recruit. In the case of Rui “Louie” Hachimura, that legacy continues.

The 6-foot-8-inch freshman is coming to Spokane all the way from Sendai, Japan, becoming the fifth Japanese born player to ever go on to Division I. Hachimura showed talent throughout his high school run and international play.

The forward led the FIBA U-17 tournament of 2014 in scoring, averaging 22.6 points per game. The most telling disparity of talent in Japan and for Hachimura could be found in their game against the US in that tournament. In the round of 16, the Americans beet Japan 122-38. Hachimura scored 25 of those points.

The Jordan Brand Classic International Game invited Hachimura to participate last year, which hosted Zags in previous years. Hachimura led his high school team to its third straight national title. In the championship game, Hachimura showed his unparalleled ability by racking up 34 points and 19 rebounds, surely helped by his 7-foot-2-inch wingspan.

Because of this lack of competition, Hachimura is a relative unknown with massive potential. Former Zag and now Japanese citizen Ira Brown worked out with Hachimura and came away impressed. “He’s going to be an extremely special player,” Brown told The Japan Times. “He can shoot the 3, he can penetrate, [he’s] very long and athletic. So the sky’s the limit for him.”

The adjustment for Hachimura is possibly the largest for any recruit to ever suit up in McCarthey. Hachimura told reporters that he understood about 80 percent of English, but only able to speak around 30-40 percent of the language when he first signed with Gonzaga.

Hachimura also simply has not faced the level of bigs that are on this roster, let alone in Division I basketball. Hachimura will not be able to simply rely on his size when facing guys three inches taller than him and 30 pounds heavier. For Hachimura to reach his potential, he will need to keep improving his midrange and perimeter game.

Hachimura eyed playing in the NCAA after his sophomore season, and has since made a concerted effort to expand his offensive abilities further away from the basket. The main thing for the young Japanese player is that the route through Gonzaga will make him battle tested. Brown pointed out in an interview with The Japan Times that Few will force him and confront him with adversity.

One of Japan’s prospect developers, Torsten Loibl said that while Hachimura is “the biggest prospect” in Japan, he is worried that Hachimura is entering a level of competition that is too far ahead of him and possibly a talent pool that will deter his development.

Hachimura believed when signing his Letter of Intent with Gonzaga that he was ready to plug-in-and-play his freshman year. Considering the team he’s joining with an upper classmen front court (Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III), a recognized rising newcomer (Zach Collins) and an overbrimming back court, Hachimura may be facing an uphill battle for any significant immediate playing time.

Couple that with the new level of academics in a new language and it’s hard not to see possible trappings for discouragement. Imagine the homesickness Ryan Spangler must have felt to go back to Oklahoma and add 3,000 miles and some change.

Making recruits into their potential is rarely easy, especially when considering the variables associated with a teenager coming across an ocean and a unique experience of playing basketball. It’s clear with his body and raw skills that Hachimura could become something incredibly special.

It cannot be stressed enough that Rui Hachimura is the embodiment of the expansion of the game of basketball around the world. He is one of the bright spots for basketball in the country of Japan. Hachimura received an invite to the 27 man provisional roster for the Japan national team and its training camps in September 2015.

Hachimura is part of the core foundation for Japan’s team heading towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That foundation includes a 22 year old Yuta Watanabe who played for George Washington and Yuki Togashi who plays professionally for the Chiba Jets. Hachimura is the great unknown of the three, with so much room for development.

I still hold out hope for a 2019-20 campaign for Hachimura that is the lead up to an Olympics appearance. A season filled with the actualization of those Elias Harris comparisons, Giannis Antetokounmpo parallels and heavy moshing by the Kennel Club as they give their own rendition of “Louie, Louie.”