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Wizards forward Rui Hachimura on growing up in Japan — and dunking on LeBron

Washington Wizard Rui Hachimura
Washington Wizard Rui Hachimura (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
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Rui Hachimura, 21, is a forward for the Washington Wizards. He became the first Japanese player selected in the first round of the NBA draft when the team chose him with the No. 9 pick earlier this year. Hachimura played basketball at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.

What does it mean for folks back in Japan that you’re the first Japanese player taken in the first round of the draft?

It means a lot, obviously. For the whole country it means a lot. I’m so honored to be the first one and so excited.

What have your new teammates told you about playing in Washington?

They told me it’s really fun playing here because all of the people here really love sports. Not just basketball, but baseball and football.

Who were some of your heroes when you were growing up in Japan?

I’d say Ichiro [Suzuki] was my hero because I played baseball before I played basketball. I played for six years, and Ichiro is obviously the guy in Japan at that time. And I still like him because he’s not only a great baseball player, but a great guy, a great person.

Have you had a chance to meet him?

No, no. Not yet, but I’m trying to. [Laughs.]

What position did you play in baseball?

I did a lot, but I was mostly a pitcher and a catcher. I was a good hitter, too.

Who is a player you dream of dunking on in the NBA?

Oh, I don’t know. [Laughs.] Maybe LeBron [James]?

LeBron? Wow, you’re going right for the king.

Yeah, he’s the top. So, you know, why not?

How do you describe your approach to the game?

I play hard and compete. I’m very competitive and come out every game with good energy. I can do a lot of things on the court defensively and offensively.

Can you yell things at the referees in Japanese and not get in trouble?

No, I don’t really talk to referees like that.

Just a few years ago you didn’t speak English. What are the most useful words you’ve learned?

A couple of slang words that they use on the court. Like “lit.” My teammates all talked like that, so I needed to learn those words, and those helped me a lot.

Are you homesick at all?

No, not really. I miss Japanese food, but that’s it.

Has anything surprised you about being on an NBA team?

Maybe that the organization is very big, and a lot of kind people work for this team. The facility is very nice, and everything is top level.

Next year Japan will host the Olympics. What will it mean for you to play for the home team there?

Oh, I’m so excited. It’s going to be great. Obviously, it’s going to be big in Japan with a lot of people coming from all over the world. And for basketball, it’s the first time in many years that we’ve qualified for the Olympics, so I’m so excited about that.

A t the end of the year, what do you want Wizards fans to be saying about you?

I don’t know. I just want to focus on the season right now and have a good team and hopefully make the playoffs. I hope they’ll love me.

This interview has been edited and condensed.