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Forging his own path, Rui Hachimura embraces quest to become the face of Japanese athletes

Forging his own path, Rui Hachimura embraces quest to become the face of Japanese athletes

LAS VEGAS — There is no shortage of stars at the Las Vegas Summer League, ones that migrate packs of media and change the tenor of the room when they enter at Thomas and Mack Center or Cox Pavilion to watch a game. Then there is Rui Hachimura, who among everyone there, has quite easily the most reporters assigned only to him.

Dozens of Japanese media members made the trip to Las Vegas to document his first games as a professional. All of them represent national networks and outlets. They are the Japanese equivalents of ESPN, CNN and NBC and Hachimura routinely makes their nightly news.

Hachimura is drawing major interest back in his home country as he continues to blaze trails as a Japanese basketball player. He is the first Japanese player to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft and is well on his way to becoming the best from his country to ever play the sport.

"I would say Rui is No. 1 [most famous athlete in Japan]," Kohei Kosaka of Nippon TV said. "Our station has his news almost every day, everything he does. All of the day in our station, all of the news shows are about Rui."

Kosaka said the most famous athletes ever from Japan are Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, but Hachimura is a good bet to pass them. Getting drafted in the first round "changed everything," according to Kosaka.

That fame has given Hachimura a significant platform. In addition to his fans in the U.S., he will have Japan, a country of 180 million people, behind him. That means a lot of children looking towards the example he sets.

Hachimura has a large responsibility and is embracing it.

"I want to be the face of athletes in Japan. I want to be the guy," Hachimura told NBC Sports Washington. "When you think about athletes in Japan, I want people to think it's me. I have a bigger goal. I'm doing it for my family."

Hachimura's family background is unique. His father is from Benin. His mother is from Japan. As he described in his introductory press conference, he considers himself "black," but with "a Japanese soul."

He says his racial identity has made it hard to adjust to new environments in the past. It made him stand out growing up in Japan and then as a college student at Gonzaga University.

Hachimura wants kids growing up now in similar shoes to follow his lead.

"Right now there are a lot of half kids. It's called hāfu, like mixed kids. They are black and Japanese. There are a lot of kids like that in Japan," he said.

"I know for sure they are watching me playing. I just want to encourage and inspire them by watching me playing. I am doing it for those kinds of kids."

Hachimura can also plant the seeds for a new generation of Japanese basketball players. Like many kids where he's from, he grew up playing baseball, and loved it, before switching to basketball at 13.

Five years later, he was on the campus of Gonzaga beginning what would be a decorated three-year career. He was playing for legendary head coach Mark Few and learning moves from NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton at practice.

Now Hachimura has a chance to show what a Japanese player is capable of in the NBA. When he debuts, he will be only the third NBA player from the country, but will right away have the most prominent role any of them have ever had.

Basketball is such a global sport now that international players swept the NBA's major postseason player awards, including MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo), Defensive Player of the Year (Rudy Gobert), Rookie of the Year (Luka Doncic) and Most Improved (Pascal Siakam). Players come from all different countries, some with differences in their game that reflect where they are from.

Hachimura said his background will show in his demeanor on the floor.

"No emotion. I have to be calm with whatever happens. Sometimes maybe we are losing, but I have to be calm that we are coming back," he said.

"I have to be patient and that comes from my Japanese culture. We are patient and just work little by little."

Hachimura is used to charting his own path, and he embraces leading the way.

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This date in Wizards history: Bradley Beal sets franchise record for single-season 3-pointers

This date in Wizards history: Bradley Beal sets franchise record for single-season 3-pointers

For the better part of eight years, three-point shooting in Washington DC was synonymous with the name, Gilbert Arenas. 

He was an electric shot-maker and was one of the NBA's revolutionary offensive players, paving the way for a wave of score-first guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving. Before Arenas set the franchise record for threes made in a season with 205, the previous record was only 158 held by Tracy Murray in 1997-98. He introduced a different level of marksmanship to this town. 

On this day, three years ago, the man who will go down as the best shooting guard in Wizards history set a new standard from three-point range. Against the Clippers in a late-season contest, Bradley Beal hit his 206th three of the season. He would go on to make 223 triples in 2016-17. 

2016-17 was a breakout year for Beal and the Wizards. He averaged 23.1 points per game, the first time he'd averaged over 20 while his teammate John Wall set career-highs in scoring, assists, steals and field goal percentage. 

Washington won 49 games and made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but in this particular game, they weren't as successful. The Clippers won the game 133-124 thanks to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick combining for 107 points. 

LA's incredible output from their stars spoiled 27 points from Beal and a 41-point, eight-assist and seven-rebound performance by Wall.

The Clippers went on to finish the season as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, only to lose in the first round to the Jazz thanks to another untimely injury to Blake Griffin. 

The Wizards, as stated before secured the fourth seed in the East, beat the Hawks in six games in the first round and then fell to the Celtics in the second round. It remains the longest playoff run for Beal and Wall. 

Beal may have to watch out for his teammate Davis Bertans, though. At the time of the NBA's suspension, Bertans was at 200 made threes with 18 games to play. Once the season picks back up, the Latvian Laser is in prime position to set a new franchise record. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

These 2K simulations certainly do agree with the Wizards. Coming off a stunning victory over the Bucks Friday, Washington turned around on the second night of a back-to-back and beat the Lakers 73-66 at virtual Capital One Arena. 

LeBron James was a one-man wrecking crew for LA, Bradley Beal led the scoring attack for the Wizards and Thomas Bryant got revenge on the team that waived him. 

Here's how the Wizards picked up their fourth-straight 2K win. 

Offensive rebounds

The Lakers are one of the biggest teams in the NBA with James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard playing heavy minutes, but it was the Wizards who dominated the boards in this one. 

Bryant led the way for Washington on the glass with seven of his 13 rebounds coming on the offensive end. The Lakers shot the ball significantly better than the Wizards (47% to 39%) but Washington was simply overwhelming them on the glass to create more opportunities. 

Washington grabbed 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Lakers' eight, and it ended being the major difference in the result. 

LeBron's one-man show

The real-life Lakers' biggest weakness is their lack of playmaking outside of James. In a game where James had everything working for him, the Lakers struggled to get anything going whenever he didn't have the ball. 

Rajon Rondo struggled mightily despite tallying eight assists (2-11 FG) and Davis had a bad game relative to his standards (10 points, one rebound, three blocks).

I'd be curious to see what virtual LeBron would have to say about his teammates after this particular game. 

Thomas Bryant's revenge

As we stated before, Bryant was waived by the Lakers after his rookie season and his virtual self took it all out on his former team Saturday night. 

He dominated the boards and once again protected the paint in a way that would make Elvin Hayes proud. He finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. 

With Bryant playing the way he has been the last few simulations, the Wizards' defense has been exceptional. Outside of defensive versatility, having a strong defensive center anchoring the defense is paramount to an effective unit. 

Other parting thoughts

Jerome Robinson continues to play well as a starter, scoring 13 points in 19 minutes. The Wizards didn't get that long of a look at Robinson before the NBA suspended its season.

After acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, it'd be another steal by Tommy Sheppard if Robinson can play like this consistently in real life. 

Instead of erupting in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards secure a win, Beal went off for 14 points in the third this time. He finished with 24 points and went 12-for-30 from the field.

Markieff Morris made a return to DC in this one. The Lakers uniform looks weird on him. 

It's hard to capture just how quick Ish Smith is in a video game, but this spin move came pretty close. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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