Although Japan eventually got bounced out of the FIBA U-19 championships, it wasn’t from lack of effort from rising Gonzaga sophomore Rui Hachimura. The forward averaged 19.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game while single-handedly trying to lead his team to victory.
Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! recently chatted with assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, and it sounds like the Gonzaga player is expected to graduate from bench player to straight up star next season.
“This is not going to be another sit-back-and-learn year for Rui,” Lloyd said. “We’re going to need Rui to be an impact player for us.”
This is the best news to hear, because the fact of the matter is the Zags need Hachimura next season. He is probably one of the best raw athletes the Zags have ever seen, but he also needed some seasoning—specifically in the realm of the language.
Now that he is hitting some jump shots, as he demonstrated in the FIBA U-19 Championships, Hachimura is going to be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses. Although he will most likely be utilized mostly at the three-spot, he has the size to defend, and we can probably expect to see him slide over to the four-spot as well.
The gamble on offering Hachimura a spot, despite the fact that no one really had seen too much of him, paid off. The coaching staff always believed in his high potential, enough so that they didn’t want to redshirt him because they are already aware he probably won’t remain at the school for four years.
Even though Hachimura didn’t project as a rotation player as a freshman, Gonzaga’s staff chose not to redshirt him. They believed his talent level was too high for him to remain in college five years and they hoped he could serve as a high-level fill-in if a key player suffered an ill-timed injury.
The really interesting quotable comes tucked away in the very bottom of the article. Although there is a lot of hype around Hachimura emerging next season, Lloyd seems to pump the brakes a bit on that.
“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.”
Much of this mindset makes sense. Although the NBA is quite good at plucking players out of college early based on potential, it doesn’t seem like it is time to expect 30 minutes of Hachimura per game. After all, the Zags have Jacob Larsen, Killian Tillie, and Johnathan Williams up front. Tillie has also been having a grand ‘ol time in the Fiba U-19s, and Williams will be heavily relied upon as the veteran of the front court.
Most likely, we can expect to see Hachimura playing 15-20 minutes, which will produce plenty of highlight reels, but potentially not enough to get on the national radar—especially without the help of a deep NCAA Championship game run.
But again, Lloyd is suggesting we will see a lot of Hachimura next season, and if he plays as well as he did in the U-19 tournament, Mark Few and the coaching staff will be hard pressed to keep him off the court.
Either way, we can expect a lot more of these kinds of plays next season, and that is never a bad thing.