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About The Asian reporter. (Portland, Or.) 1991-current | View Entire Issue (Feb. 4, 2019)
February 4, 2019
THE ASIAN REPORTER n Page 7
Asians in American sports w Asian Americans in world sports
Rui Hachimura of Japan poised for NBA stardom
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
hinese stars Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian have left
their mark on the National Basketball
Association (NBA), but only two Japan-born
players have ever made it into an NBA game. Don’t feel
bad if you haven’t heard of them. Yuta Tabuse played 17
minutes in four games for the Phoenix Suns during the
2004-2005 season, and Yuta Watanabe has logged just 52
minutes in eight games for the Memphis Grizzlies this
season. But Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura is
ready to change all that.
Hachimura was born in Toyama, Japan, to a Beninese
father and a Japanese mother. His father’s West African
heritage made Rui look distinctively different from other
Japanese, and he sometimes felt ostracized for being hafu,
or biracial. Despite this, he showed moderate success in
school athletics, playing soccer, track, and baseball.
After a friend suggested he try out for his junior-high
basketball team, Hachimura flourished. He led that team
to second place in the nation, then led his high school team
to consecutive national titles and played for Team Japan
in a succession of International Basketball Federation
(FIBA) youth tournaments.
In 2013, Hachimura and Japan took a surprising third
place at the FIBA Asia U16 tournament. The following
year, Hachimura led everyone in scoring at the 2014 FIBA
U17 World Championships, outscoring future NBA
players Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, and Josh Jackson.
Playing against the U.S., Japan was shellacked, 38-122,
but Hachimura accounted for 25 of Japan’s 38 points.
Already a big name in Japan, Hachimura gained inter-
national attention from those FIBA tournaments. In
2015, he was the only Japanese player invited to the
Jordan Brand Classic, a premier showcase for under-16
basketball talent, and he caught the eye of a range of
Hachimura chose to enroll at Gonzaga University in
Spokane, Washington, for two main reasons. First, its
climate was similar to Toyama. Second, its basketball pro-
gram has a reputation for bringing international players
to America, featuring athletes from France, Lithuania,
Denmark, Germany, and Brazil, among others.
This gave Hachimura plenty of help, but his first season
at Gonzaga, 2016-2017, included plenty of adjustments.
He had to learn a new language and culture and adapt to a
faster, more aggressive game. Hachimura came off the
bench in 28 games that year, collecting 73 points, 38
rebounds, and three blocks in 128 total minutes. Though
he contributed little, Gonzaga reached the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) finals before
falling to North Carolina, 65-71.
In 2017-2018, Hachimura’s impact off the bench grew.
He played in all 37 games and racked up 766 minutes,
averaging more than 11 points and almost five rebounds
per game. He made one regular-season start against
IUPUI, and had the best game of the season against
Texas, nearly recording his first career double-double
with a 20-point, nine-rebound performance at the Moda
Center in Portland.
But Hachimura’s most dramatic game that season came
in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Gonzaga survived a
first-round scare against UNC-Greensboro, 68-64, and
then beat Ohio State in the next round, 90-84, with
Hachimura contributing a season-high 25 points.
Preparing to face Florida State, however, Gonzaga lost
starting forward Killian Tillie to a hip injury sustained
during practice. Suddenly, the sophomore Hachimura
would be starting the most important game of his young
Though his stat line was lower than his game against
Texas, one could argue that Hachimura played the best
game of the season against Florida State, who were a
much tougher opponent. He scored 16 points in 35
minutes, had nine rebounds, and blocked two shots, but
the rest of the team didn’t play as well, and Florida State
held onto an early lead for a 75-60 victory.
Despite this disappointing early exit from the
tournament, the team has surged back to the top this
UP-AND-COMING STAR. Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura
(#21) shoots against the University of Portland during the first half of a
National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball game in Portland, Ore-
gon. Hachimura has flourished since joining his junior-high basketball
team. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
season, and Hachimura has become a crucial starter. He
was key in Gonzaga’s biggest victory so far this season, an
upset of top-ranked Duke in the Maui Invitational,
vaulting the Zags to No. 1 in the country.
The 89-87 win featured a lot of great moments, but most
prominent was the team’s defensive stonewalling of the
Blue Devils in the game’s final minutes. Duke had seven
chances to tie the score, but they were denied each time,
including two rejections by Hachimura.
And the Japanese star didn’t just shine in the final
game, either. He averaged 22.3 points and six rebounds in
the tournament, shooting well both inside and outside the
three-point line. His performance earned him tournament
Most Valuable Player honors and gave him a boost of
Two games later, against Creighton, Hachimura finally
achieved his first career double-double, scoring 22,
ripping down 11 rebounds, and adding three steals and
three assists. Those assists mark a turn in his skills this
season. In the next game, Hachimura scored 26 against
Washington, his second-highest point total of the season,
and then his numbers started to shift.
Since that Washington victory, Hachimura’s scoring
production has slipped a bit while his assists have risen.
After averaging 22 points and 1.5 assists in the eight
games before facing Washington, he has averaged 18
points and 2.2 assists in the 12 games since. As teams
start to focus on him, he’s learning to dish the ball,
reflecting the recognition of his skills by his opponents
and his growing understanding of the flow of the game.
The Gonzaga team has also slipped since that
Washington victory. They dropped the next two games —
losing to current number-one Tennessee and then to UNC,
ranked 12th at the time — and fell from the top spot to
eighth in the national polls.
Like Hachimura, Gonzaga responded to adversity,
winning the next 10 and climbing to No. 4 in the nation.
With 10 games left, none of them against top-ranked
opponents, the Bulldogs hope to tune up for the NCAA
tournament, when they will once again be favorites to rise
from the first two rounds — if not further.
Whether they can accomplish that goal depends a lot on
Hachimura, who is already being talked about as college
player of the year and a top NBA draft pick. Whenever he
decides to declare for the NBA draft, Hachimura should
make a bigger mark on the game than either Yuta Tabuse
or Yuta Watanabe, heralding Japan as a new source of
basketball talent for Asian-American sports fans every-
Naomi Osaka wins Australian Open for second major, top ranking
By Howard Fendrich
AP Tennis Writer
ELBOURNE, Australia — So
close to victory, Naomi Osaka
suddenly was letting the
Australian Open final slip away. Three
championship points? Gone. A sizable
lead? Soon all gone, too.
She was playing poorly. She yelled at
herself. Slammed a ball. Tugged at her
visor’s pink brim. Trudged to the locker
room between sets with a towel draped
over her head.
And then, after returning to the court,
Osaka turned it all around just as quickly
as she had dropped 23 of 27 points.
Refocusing and reasserting herself, Osaka
edged Petra Kvitova 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 to win
the Australian Open for a second
consecutive Grand Slam title.
“I felt like I didn’t want to have any
regrets,” Osaka said. “I think if I didn’t
regroup after the second set, then I would
have looked back on this match and
probably cried or something.”
On top of that, Osaka will rise to No. 1 in
Wimbledon champion Kvitova said.
“Definitely she is a great one. We’ll see
what the future will bring.”
Osaka added the Australian Open
trophy to the one she collected in a U.S.
Open final last September that forever will
be remembered for the way runner-up
Serena Williams was docked a game after
arguing with the chair umpire.
Unlike that day, there was no jeering
from the confused crowd. No controversy.
No chaos. No sharing the spotlight.
Clearly marking herself as the bright
new star of tennis, Osaka is the first
woman to win two major championships in
a row since Williams picked up four
straight in 2014-2015.
Almost didn’t happen.
Osaka held three match points in the
second set at 5-3, love-40 as Kvitova
served. But Osaka couldn’t close it out.
Instead, she completely lost her way.
That allowed Kvitova to come back and
make a match of it, reeling off five games in
a row to take the second set and go up 1-0
in the third.
At that point, Kvitova would say later,
she figured it was going to keep going her
“In the end,” she said, “it wasn’t.”
After Kvitova double-faulted to offer up
a break point at 1-all, Osaka converted it
with a cross-court backhand winner. There
was still more work to be done, of course,
and some additional drama when it began
raining at the changeover right before
SECOND MAJOR. Naomi Osaka of Japan
kisses the trophy of the Daphne Akhurst Memorial
Cup at Melbourne’s Brighton Beach following her
win over Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the
women’s singles final at the Australian Open tennis
championships in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/
Osaka tried to serve for the match at 5-4 in
the third set.
This time, Osaka would not falter. She
would not let this lead disappear.
“I knew that Petra couldn’t keep it up for
that long if Naomi could just manage those
emotions,” said Osaka’s coach, Sascha
Bajin, “and she did that beautifully.”
Osaka was born in Japan — her mother
is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and
she moved to New York at age three. Now
she’s based in Florida and has dual
citizenship. Osaka already was the first
player representing Japan — female or
male — to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Now she also is the first to top the WTA or
At 21, Osaka is the youngest No. 1 in
nearly a decade; Caroline Wozniacki was
20 when she first ascended to that spot in
And to think, a year ago, Osaka was
What a climb. What a quick climb.
Kvitova was playing in her first Grand
Slam final since winning Wimbledon in
2014 — and the first since she was stabbed
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