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Rui Hachimura will return for his junior season

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After taking a big leap in his game during his sophomore year, the forward from Japan will not enter the NBA Draft.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Florida State vs Gonzaga Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Rui Hachimura has made up his mind, and will return to Gonzaga for his junior season in lieu of entering the NBA Draft after a strong 2017-18 campaign.

Hachimura’s name has been littered all over NBA mock draft boards for the better part of the last year, and for good reason. Standing at 6’8” with loads of athleticism, Hachimura certainly possesses all the physical tools NBA front offices look for when assessing prospects. His skills have also been on a steady upward trend since arriving at Gonzaga two years ago, and he showed flashes of what he’s capable of throughout the season beginning with a 20-point outburst against Texas in the final game of the PK80 tournament. While Hachimura had some duds, he reached a consistently high level of play for the second half of the season en route to averages of 11.6ppg, 4.7rpg, 56.9 FG% in 20.7mpg for his sophomore campaign.

In light of his rapid ascent over the last few months, the draft talk surrounding Hachimura began to grow louder. But if you have been paying attention to comments from the coaching staff—particularly assistant coach Tommy Lloyd—during Rui’s time in Spokane, it always felt like a third season at Gonzaga was part of the plan. In the fall of 2017, Lloyd laid out the plan in an interview with The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie:

“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.”

With Hachimura’s announcement that he wouldn’t even test the NBA Draft waters, he’s made it crystal clear that he’s fully committed to the development plan that the Gonzaga coaching staff laid out for him dating back to his recruitment. In so doing, he’ll provide the Zags with a key two-way weapon for a team that has aspirations for another Final Four run.

NBA draft boards and analysts had a broad range for where Hachimura was going to land in the 2018 draft if he entered, with some projecting him as high as a mid-first round pick while others had him as a late second rounder or not even on the board. To see his name firmly in the lottery range for the 2019 Draft, Hachimura will need to make strides with his perimeter game, particularly his three-point shooting, and continue to progress with his ability to defend.

With Hachimura and Norvell already back in the fold, the last piece of the puzzle is a decision from Killian Tillie. Tillie’s return, along with the additions of Brandon Clarke and Top-100 recruit Filip Petrusev (and perhaps one more late recruit or grad transfer??), should lock in Gonzaga as a preseason Top-10 team going into the 2018-19 campaign. Stay tuned.