Rui Hachimura is coming to the Wizards from Gonzaga! But how do the fans in Spokane, Wash. remember him? To help get a better perspective, I chatted with Peter Woodburn, the site manager for The Slipper Still Fits, SB Nation’s Gonzaga Bulldogs blog. Our Q&A is below.
Bullets Forever: Hachimura increased his scoring each of his three years at Gonzaga. How has he been able to develop so quickly?
Peter Woodburn: Rui is an athletic specimen whose route to basketball was a bit wonky, all considering. He didn’t start playing basketball until he was 14 years old, starting out in Japan as a catcher.
When he arrived at Gonzaga, his English comprehension was hardly up to par for what would be required in game day communication. That is one of the biggest reasons why his freshman year he only played a few minutes per game, despite, even at that time, many national pundits saying Rui was the best NBA prospect on the squad.
The Gonzaga coaching staff has been very clear from the get go that Rui was on a three-year plan. The first year was dipping the toe in, the second year was dipping the foot in and the third year was diving into the deep end.
Rui has a great natural feel for the game and the size/athleticism to make up for many of the shortcomings players might struggle through. The biggest reason for his development rests in the Gonzaga coaching staff’s patient approach, as well as Rui’s endless hard work.
BF: NBA pundits are concerned whether Hachimura’s defense can sync with his offense. What steps could he take to improve on the defensive end?
PW: Luckily, Rui has the intangibles (wingspan, height, quickness, etc.) that I think he should be fine on defense after some time. Legitimately, his defense, more specifically, the lack thereof sometimes, is rather frustrating.
He can equally be remembered for blocking RJ Barrett’s final shot when Gonzaga defeated Duke at the Maui Invitational as much as allowing his future Wizards teammate Admiral Schofield to hit a wide-open, game-winning three-pointer in Tennessee’s win over the Zags.
That said, I think it goes back to the communication thing. I haven’t tried, but I imagine successfully navigating defensive play is quite a bit harder when you don’t fully grasp the language. Now that he does, his defensive awareness is the next thing that needs to step up, because he has the athleticism to make it all work on defending multiple positions in the NBA.
BF: If there was an NBA player who Hachimura could emulate, who would it be?
PW: This is always the worst question for me. I am from Seattle and basically gave up watching the NBA consistently after the SuperSonics left town, so pretty much I’m an occasional casual NBA playoff watcher.
So whatever hypothetical power forward who can create his own offense, owns an absolutely beautiful midrange shot, is fast enough to run the floor and is a devil to deal with if successfully posted up. Rui’s speed and body type means teams can shove him at center if desperate or put him on the wing if needed.
BF: Hachimura could be someone like Wizards legend Antawn Jamison. Jamison was able to create his offense, had a good jump shot from midrange to the three and was able to run the floor. Totally understand where you’re coming from with the Sonics, though.
BF: What kind of a role do you expect Hachimura to get with the Wizards?
PW: If I were a Washington Wizards fan, I would take whatever dream I have of Rui Hachimura winning Rookie of the Year and shove it where the sun does not shine. Rui has an incredibly high ceiling, but there is still plenty of work to be done, both for him and through getting the proper coaching.
I would imagine Rui maybe averaging 15-ish minutes next year, doing some fun looking things on offense and probably getting yanked multiple times in games due to defensive breakdowns. If you are a fan that is willing to work long-term, you’ll be totally fine with Rui. If you are screaming about top 10 picks at the TV, you are probably in for a bumpy ride.
BF: Gonzaga, unlike some other top college programs, has a significant number of non-American players besides Hachimura, like Filip Petrusev for example. How has that influenced the style of play and kept the Bulldogs in the national title conversation in recent seasons?
PW: You hit the nail on the head for how Gonzaga has been able to compete in recent years. Although the recruiting has really taken a turn for the better in the past few years, it is important to remember that the major high school recruits usually don’t end up at Gonzaga. Zach Collins was the first one-and-done in school history.
This year, the Bulldogs had two first-round draft picks (Rui and Brandon Clarke). That actually set a new school record! While the recruiting battles pivoted to AAU circuits and all that jazz, the Zags sent Assistant Coach Tommy Lloyd off around the world, and now Gonzaga has, I would argue, the best resume for international prospects.
Next season, the Zags roster will feature two players from France, one player from Serbia, one player from Russia and one player from Mali. Often times, the players the Zags are getting would be four- or five-star recruits if the sites actually rated international prospects.
As far as style of play, you do end up seeing a little bit more FIBA ball than most squads. The Zags have owned one of more efficient offenses in the nation for the past few years because it relies more on finding the best shot, not just hero ball.
Thanks again to Peter for helping us out here. Check out more information on the Gonzaga Bulldogs by logging onto The Slipper Still Fits!