Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura became the first player from Japan to get chosen in the first round of the NBA draft, taken with the No. 9 overall pick by the rebuilding Washington Wizards on Thursday night in New York.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward averaged a team-leading 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds last season as a junior with the Zags, where he was the West Coast Conference player of the year.
“It means a lot for me, for my family,” Hachimura said. “For Japan basketball, all my country, it’s a big thing.”
Former Gonzaga standout Brandon Clarke was selected as the 21st pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder. A trade for the pick is pending with the Memphis Grizzlies.
It’s the first time two Zags have been selected in the first round, and the third time that two Zags were selected in the same draft.
Senior point guard Josh Perkins and sophomore shooting guard Zach Norvell Jr. were not selected.
Hachimura was the highest Bulldog draft choice since Adam Morrison was the third overall pick by the Charlotte Bobcats in 2006.
The only other Japanese player drafted in NBA history was Yasutaka Okayama, who went 171st overall in 1981. He never appeared in a regular-season game, something just two players from the country have done: Yuta Tabuse for the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05, and Yuta Watanabe for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2018-19.
Hachimura said he heard about his new home from Watanabe, a teammate with Japan’s national team who went to college in D.C. at George Washington.
“I heard a lot of good things about the city,” Hachimura said, “so I can’t wait to be there.”
Hachimura is relatively new to basketball, having switched to the sport at age 13 after being a catcher in baseball.
In explaining why he wanted Hachimura, Wizards interim general manager Tommy Sheppard mentioned the 21-year-old’s play for Japan’s national team.
“For Japan to qualify for the world championships, he’s the focal point. And when the (Tokyo) Olympics come in 2020, he’s going to be the focal point of that country on that basketball team,” Sheppard said. “To be able to shoulder that load at his age — the maturity he has — I think that’s going to bode well for him in the NBA.”
Hachimura is capable of playing either forward spot, a versatility that appealed to Washington, given how much help it needs up and down the roster after going 32-50 and missing the playoffs.
“With the way the league is going, you can just put him out there. It’s such a ‘position-less’ (league). I know that’s the cool thing to say, but it’s true. You have to be able to have playmakers on the floor,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He can guard multiple positions. He can play 3, 4; in some small lineups, you can probably throw him at the 5.”
Hachimura said the first NBA player he liked was Carmelo Anthony.
Oklahoma City selected Clarke, but the Thunder were expected to send him to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team deal.
Utah picked at No. 23 and chose forward Darius Bazley, who is expected to join the Thunder. ESPN first reported the picks are part of a multi-player deal that will send Memphis’ Mike Conley to Utah.
Hachimura and Clarke make it nine Zags to be drafted in the first round, joining John Stockton in 1984 (16th overall pick, Utah Jazz), Dan Dickau in 2002 (28th overall pick, Sacramento Kings), Adam Morrison in 2006 (3rd overall pick, Charlotte Bobcats), Austin Daye in 2009 (15th overall pick, Detroit Pistons), Kelly Olynyk in 2013 (13th overall pick, Dallas Mavericks), Domantas Sabonis in 2016 (11th overall pick, Orlando Magic), Zach Collins in 2017 (10th overall pick, Sacramento Kings) and Hachimura earlier tonight. Ian Mahinmi was a first round pick and 28th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. Mahinmi had signed a letter of intent to attend Gonzaga for the 2005-06 season, but never enrolled in school.
Clarke makes it 24 Gonzaga selected in the NBA draft all-time, and 12 under coach Mark Few.
After Zion Williamson of Duke was selected No. 1 by the New Orleans Pelicans, as expected, the Memphis Grizzlies also quickly addressed a positional need by taking Murray State’s Ja Morant with the No. 2 pick. The Grizzlies agreed to trade Mike Conley, their longtime point guard, to Utah a day earlier.
They got a good replacement in Morant, who led Division I with 10 assists per game as a sophomore while averaging 24.5 points.
RJ Barrett then made it two Duke freshmen within the top three picks when the New York Knicks took the guard who actually edged out Williamson to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring.
De’Andre Hunter of national champion Virginia was taken fourth but won’t be teaming up with Williamson. The Pelicans acquired the rights to the pick in the Davis deal but agreed to trade it shortly before the draft to Atlanta. The original trade can’t be official until July 6, so Hunter was outfitted with a Lakers hit and the draft board behind the stage listed the pick as belonging to the Lakers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers then took Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland, who played in just five games because of a knee injury.
Then it was another pick who won’t be playing for the team that made it, with Jarrett Culver taken at No. 6 by Phoenix with a pick that the Suns agreed to trade to Minnesota for the No. 11 pick.
That turned out to be Cameron Johnson, the second North Carolina player to be drafted after Chicago took Coby White at No. 7.
The trades caused some confusion in Barclays Center beyond just players wearing hats of teams whose uniforms they won’t wear.