Generational talents are hard to come by, that’s what makes them...uh, generational. The ones that do come along, don’t often find themselves in Spokane. Rui Hachimura could change that for the Zags.
The coaching staff surprised most observers last season when it did not put a redshirt on Hachimura. There’s no disputing his talent, but Hachimura was raw while also having to deal with the challenges of assimilating to a new culture, language, team, and competition level. Despite the general consensus that a redshirt made the most sense for him, Mark Few thought otherwise, concluding that Hachimura would benefit most from actually playing—no matter how limited the minutes might be (4.8mpg).
To his credit, Hachimura found a way to thrill fans in just about every brief cameo he got last season. He flashed his athleticism on numerous occasions, usually in the form of a thunderous dunk in garbage time.
His size, explosiveness, and charismatic energy portends an exciting future. But it was evident at times throughout last season that he still has a steep learning curve ahead. He didn’t always seem to know where to be on either side of the ball, and there was a lack of crispness in his execution that should be chalked up to inexperience rather than indifference. But the potential is easy to see and incredibly tantalizing.
With a full season under his belt, a full year with the coaching staff, and coming off an impressive FIBA U-19 Tournament in which he averaged 20.6ppg and 11rpg for Japan, Hachimura is primed for a breakout season.
As a rising sophomore, he’ll be thinking less on the court and simply playing and reacting. I anticipate he’ll be armed with a better understanding of how to play within Mark Few’s system on both offense and defense, freeing him up to attack what the opponent is doing rather than thinking about his individual responsibilities. And as his highlight video above from the U-19 Tournament indicates, his confidence, rim protecting, shooting ability, and even his passing (the no-look pass at the 1:30 mark is awesome) all appear to have taken a leap forward (necessary qualifier for the uneven competition level).
As Hachimura continues on his developmental path, the hope is that he (and Corey Kispert) will give the Zags a legitimate small forward weapon that they have not been able to consistently field. Hachimura can certainly kick further inside to the “four” spot, especially in small ball lineups, but he is a true “three” and can be devastating at the position.
Gonzaga fans seem to be most excited about watching Hachimura next season, and rightfully so. He has everything in his basketball toolbox. But the game of basketball is littered with tons of players who had high ceilings and never reached them. It will be up to the coaching staff and Hachimura himself to maximize his gifts. If they can, there’s really no telling how good he can be. For now, you will just have to use your imagination.