SEABROOK – In an eventful evening at the NBA Draft in Brooklyn, New York on June 20, the Washington Wizards made a key move in restructuring their roster by selecting Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura with the No. 9 overall pick.
His selection comes after a fantastic junior season where the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 19.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. With Washington’s selection, Hachimura, 21, became the first Japanese-born player to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.
“You know, it means a lot for me and my family,” said Hachimura. “Like Japan basketball. All my country. (This is) a big thing.”
Hachimura confirmed to the assembled media at the draft that Washington had not met him until after selecting him. However, interim General Manager Tommy Sheppard said on June 21 that he and the scouting departments kept an eye on him after a Basketball Without Borders program before his freshman year.
Over his time in college basketball, his skills matured; Washington Head Coach Scott Brooks stated that his work ethic and effectiveness as a two-way player was key in selecting him. During his time at Gonzaga, Hachimura was regarded as a skilled defender as he was voted First Team All-American by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association in Feb. 18.
“He has the talent, and with that work ethic, we feel that we can have a really good two-way player,” said Head Coach Scott Brooks. “He’s going to help the program. He’s going to come in and be a guy that is coachable. I talked to (Gonzaga University Head Coach Mark Few) earlier (and he said) you’re never going to have a problem with him. He has a lot of respect for the game and how he prepares. He’s experienced a lot.”
Nine players are set to leave Washington for free agency, including five forwards. Due to the number of players leaving, it is expected that Hachimura will get more playing time alongside shooting guard Bradley Beal this upcoming season. One of those forwards entering free agency will be Jabari Parker, as it is being reported that Washington will not exercise his $20 million option.
Washington is trying to retool their roster following a 32-50 record, 28 games behind first place in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards fired General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and placed Sheppard, the team’s senior vice president of basketball operations, in charge of those duties on an interim basis.
The Wizards’ situation was already tough following the injury to star guard John Wall. The nine-year veteran was already recovering from a heel injury before a home incident caused him to rupture his left Achilles tendon in late January. Wall is expected to miss the majority if not all of his 2019-2020 season recovering from the injury.
The selection of Hachimura will hopefully add some positivity for Washington before the start of the free agency period.
“I am just excited to be a part of this organization,” Hachimura said in his introductory press conference. “I heard a lot of good things about this team and this city so it is going to be fun.”
Meanwhile, in the second round, former University of Maryland center Bruno Fernando became the first Angolan player ever drafted when he was selected in the second round with the No. 34 pick by the Philadelphia 76ers and then traded to the Atlanta Hawks.
Following his selection, Fernando was overcome with emotions before heading up to the stage to confirm the pick.
Fernando was coming off a strong sophomore year where he led the Big Ten Conference in double-doubles (22) and field goal percentage (.607).
He finished his college career by collecting the fourth-most rebounds in Maryland single-season history (362) while becoming the first Terp to become a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award.
Before the trade, Atlanta’s General Manager Travis Schlenk hinted at the possibility of trading picks in the second round with the desire of choosing a “big man” during a post-first round press conference. The Hawks traded their 57th pick and two future second-rounders to land the former Terp.
“We feel good on how the draft played out,” Schlenk said. “We have spent a lot of time accumulating assets and tonight, we decided to cash some of those in for guys who we think are going to help us in the future.”
With his selection, Fernando becomes the 18th Maryland player to be selected in the second round. He will join former Maryland players Alex Len and Kevin Huerter who are already on the Hawks roster as Atlanta looks to improve from a 29-53 record.
“The Hawks are getting one of the hardest working players I have ever had the pleasure of coaching, and Bruno has an incredible opportunity in front of him,” Maryland Head Coach Mark Turgeon said. “This is a special night for Bruno and his family, especially being the first Angolan to be drafted in the NBA’s history. I can’t wait to see what he achieves at the next level.”