There was a collective sigh of relief heard around Spokane and beyond when Rui Hachimura declared he will return for his junior year. Much of the hype surrounding the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2018-19 season involved a frontcourt featuring the athletic forward from Japan.
If we had all read the signs on the wall, it would have been pretty clear. The Gonzaga coaching staff has been transparent and deliberate with how the evolution of Hachimura would take place the entire time.
The first year was always the introduction. The second year was throwing those feelers out. The third year is when he is unleashed.
We saw that in glimpses throughout the year, and then on full display in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Against Ohio State, Hachimura scored 25 points and blocked four shots. He was all over the court, and the Buckeyes had no answer for him.
Zags with the HUGE DENIAL! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/L5Zb6VKWTv— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2018
Gonzaga seals it with the THROW DOWN! #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Ch4KVZ2eFZ— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2018
Hachimura led the Zags during conference play, averaging just 13.1 points per game. He was also developing into the offensive focal point while on the court. Hachimura led the Zags last year alongside Johnathan Williams, using 24 percent of the possessions. He led the Zags with 24.2 percent of shots taken.
Rui has a solid jumper, shooting 47.8 percent for two point range. He takes that shot nearly one third of the time. His free throw shooting, Ohio State NCAA Tournament exception, is outstanding, standing at nearly 80 percent. The defensive awareness improved this season. Rui’s all around game is good enough for the NBA at this point—but it could be better. He didn’t shoot the three pointer too well this season, and needs to work on his range a bit.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Bulldogs next season, and much of it will begin with Rui. The Zags haven’t had a player with his level of athleticism in either quite some time or forever, depending on what camp you like to hang out in.
Next season, with Williams graduating, it will be a frontcourt of Brandon Clarke, Hachimura, and Killian Tillie. In the background, you’ll have Jacob Larsen ready to contribute more. Legitimately, you can argue that is one of the best frontcourts in the nation.
Hachimura will be the focal point of that offensive attack down low, and it will be something to enjoy. Most likely, barring any sort of catastrophe, it is safe to start assuming now that Rui will not be back for his senior year. He has already played in a national championship game, now it will be time to try and deliver another deep NCAA run.