For Gonzaga fans, no matter which way you look at it, after watching this clip from the 2017 FIBA U19 World Cup this summer, it was pretty much impossible not to presume sophomore Rui Hachimura is the best thing to arrive in Spokane in the history of ever.
Plenty of coaches have hyped Hachimura slowly but surely since his arrival, and the Japanese import came onto the national conversation in a big way, averaging 19.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game during the summer tournament, against some very stiff competition.
Now, the thought of Hachimura playing more than five minutes per game virtually elicits a Pavlovian response from most everyone in Spokane, and it is easy to see why. He is as dynamic and athletic as any player that has rolled through Gonzaga. He has highlight reel athleticism and, if it all gets put together correctly, will be in the NBA after his time as a Zag.
The key word(s) are “if it all gets put together correctly.” Perhaps this is just the coaching staff saying the right words, but again, assistant coach Tommy Lloyd is quoting exactly what (from the fan perspective) you don’t want to hear about Hachimura. From Sam Vecenie’s excellent pre-season profile on The Athletic:
“The first year was always just going to be about learning. Learning a new culture, a new language, how to practice every day,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “The second year is going to be experiences. He’s going to learn from his own experiences. He’s going to have great experiences and bad experiences. How does he learn from there? Then in Year 3, I think he’s going to be a superstar. That’s the track we’re on.”
We are in squarely in the second year. And this isn’t the first time Lloyd has said the exact same thing with just a few different words. Earlier this summer, Jeff Eisenberg spoke with Lloyd, and although Lloyd said the staff is expecting more minutes and production from Hachimura, the real explosion in potential might not be realized until his junior year.
“For Rui, year one was a big-time learning year,” Lloyd said. “You’re learning the culture, you’re learning college basketball, you’re learning how to work hard on a daily basis. Year two is going to be an experience year. You’re going to learn from your own mistakes. By year three, in my opinion, he’ll be ready to be a featured star player at the college level.”
In a team that is entering the upcoming season with a healthy amount of questions, one of the big ones to follow is Hachimura. At the same time, one of the big ones to temper is Hachimura. However, if that potential is realized one year ahead of schedule, no one on the coaching staff will probably be too upset.