SAITAMA, Japan — Rui Hachimura was a fount of knowledge for his teammates during the Washington Wizards’ four-day stay in Japan, the expert on everything from where to eat after games to where to go out after the dinner after the game to what the team ate at said dinner. No, Kristaps Porzingis, it wasn’t shabu-shabu, one version of Japanese hot pot, that you had the other night. It was sukiyaki, a different version of Japanese hot pot.
Hachimura gave the Japanese reporters a laugh when he cleared that one up.
Given this wealth of information, Hachimura might be expected to help his teammates through the task they face now that the trip is over, the one that is even more difficult than playing the Golden State Warriors twice during preseason — the Wizards lost their second game at Saitama Super Arena, 104-95, on Sunday.
Once they land in D.C., the Wizards must reacclimate their body clocks so they can work efficiently toward being in tiptop shape for the start of the NBA season Oct. 19.
“I would say, like, when you need to sleep, you sleep. And when you need to be up, you just stay up,” Hachimura said, laughing as the room again cracked up.
Hachimura admitted that, as a 24-year-old professional athlete who is a veteran of international travel, adjusting is easier for him than most. But the Wizards and Warriors will take the next few days seriously to try to mitigate the cost of traveling halfway around the world and back in less than a week.
“I think this coming week is probably the most important week of camp given the irregularity of what we’ve just done coming to Japan after only three practices,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said. And the Warriors aren’t traveling for the next three weeks or so.
The Wizards, on the other hand, hit the road again for a game Oct. 10 in Charlotte, then head to New York for their final preseason game, against the Knicks on Oct. 14.
Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Washington will have Monday off after landing sometime late Sunday night in D.C. Then it will ease players back into action in the following days and ramp them up for competition all over again. This is when Unseld expects Deni Avdija, who has not yet been a full participant in camp and missed both preseason games because of a left groin strain, to start playing the competitive parts of practice.
Corey Kispert was the more pressing concern — he sprained his left ankle in the first quarter Sunday and needed to receive treatment on the plane because the Wizards left for their flight home directly after the game.
“I just walked by him. There was some swelling. . . . We’ll see,” Unseld said when asked about the severity of the injury.
But the exhaustion, physical toll and less-than-ideal timetables are all costs the Wizards and Warriors knew would come due.
During international exhibitions, teams reap individual benefits to be sure, whether that’s putting Hachimura in front of his home fans or expanding the Warriors’ brand abroad. But they are also serving the league, sacrificing a comfy training camp at home for the greater cause of spreading the game of basketball — and the NBA product — around the world.
These games are business trips. If that leads to more Hachimuras coming into the league a decade from now, the Wizards and Warriors say a few days of jet lag are a small price to pay.
“It’s been fun to watch the Japanese players enter the league and have success, and I’m hoping that we have more and more,” Kerr said. “Part of the reason for a trip like this is to bring the game to young kids in Japan, and hopefully they really play and develop, and we’d love nothing more in a few years than to see 10 Japanese players in the league instead of two or three. That’s the idea.”
“I think all in all they really enjoyed the experience,” Unseld said. “Obviously Rui is a big piece of that. I think they rallied around him, and he’s been a bright spot. His personality’s showing more and more. He’s home. He’s happy. He’s excited to be here. Just the warm welcome that we’ve received since we’ve touched down, that certainly makes the trip a lot more enjoyable. . . . I know it’s a very compressed schedule. Well worth it.”
Porzingis said his lasting takeaway from the trip is that he got to experience a new culture and see how a different part of the world supports basketball. Kerr called it an “impactful” visit that could set a positive tone for the rest of the season. Hachimura said over and over how special a visit it was for him to serve as an ambassador and tour guide for the Wizards.
“It was a special moment for me, this team and this country,” he said. “This whole trip was special, different, just a great experience for me and this team.”
That doesn’t mean players won’t come back to earth Monday when their bodies are crying out in the middle of the day for a long sleep. Unseld mentioned the Wizards planned for that — in addition to the few days off, the team’s medical squad provided guidelines on the ideal nap lengths and times during the day.
Hachimura, for one, plans on taking his own advice.
“Just got to stay up,” he said. “At night, you’ve just got to sleep.”