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Rui Hachimura mania is a real thing in Japan and may be just starting in Washington

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Rui Hachimura mania is a real thing in Japan and may be just starting in Washington

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards drafted a superstar on Thursday night.

Whether Rui Hachimura will ever reach the definition of that label as a basketball is unclear, but he has already achieved stardom when it comes to worldwide fame and intrigue. As the first ever Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA, Hachimura has a rabid following that rivals anyone in his draft class, including Zion Williamson.

Hachimura's magnetism was on display Friday afternoon on the fourth floor of Capital One Arena, as the Wizards introduced him less than 24 hours after making him the ninth overall pick in the 2019 draft. There were over 40 members of the Japanese media in attendance from over 20 outlets, all jockeying for position to film his every step.

They tracked him in the days leading up to the draft in New York, then travelled down to Washington for his introductory press conference. Not even John Wall, the No. 1 pick in 2010, rolled that deep.

For Hachimura, who hails from Gonzaga University by way of Toyama, Japan, it wasn't anything new. He has been hailed as the next great athlete from his country for years and media attention has become part of his everyday life.

"I'm used to it. This is kind of small," he joked. "When I was in Japan, there were couple of press conferences like this and there were more people."

Not all Japanese athletes get a media contingent like Hachimura does. Sports fans in his country believe he is the type of special talent that could inspire a generation of basketball players.

"There is a crazy fever right now," Go Sudo of the Fuji News Network said. "He has a chance to be as big as Ichiro [Suzuki]."

Hachimura was flanked at his press conference by head coach Scott Brooks and Wizards senior VP Tommy Sheppard, both of which were beaming as they listened to a 21-year-old man they believe has the playing style and character to fit in well with their program. 

They can only hope Hachimura proves as good a fit with their team as he is with the city he will play in. Washington, D.C. has one of the largest Japanese populations in the United States. The Embassy of Japan is only 2 1/2 miles away from Capital One Arena. 

Hachimura said he is ready to embrace the Japanese culture already present in Washington.

"I heard about the cherry blossoms. That's like a Japanese thing. I actually want to go see it," he said. 

"I've heard there are a lot of Japanese people here and I'm so excited to meet those people. And there are good Japanese restaurants, right? I want to try them."

Hachimura is already a big enough global star that he could be one of the most marketable players on the team. Without playing his first NBA game, Hachimura has already picked up a collection of sponsorships including Jordan brand shoes and Nissin, the maker of Cup of Noodles.

That could be only the beginning. The Wizards have already received numerous inquiries from global brands since Hachimura was drafted.

Hachimura has the chance to become a trailblazer for Japanese basketball. His origin story reflects just how unusual his road has been.

Hachimura grew up playing baseball, much like many kids do in Japan, especially since Ichiro's run of MLB stardom. At 13, he tried basketball for the first time and initially didn't see it as a realistic path.

"I went to a practice and I actually didn't want to play basketball, but one of my teammates and classmates, he was annoying me. He wanted me to play basketball," Hachimura said. 

"He would come up to me every morning like 'let's play basketball... Then, in junior high, my coach pointed to me and said 'you're going to the NBA.' I had no idea what the NBA was. But I believed in him and said 'yeah, let's do it.'"

"I'm glad he made a stupid decision," Brooks joked.

From there, Hachimura studied YouTube clips of Carmelo Anthony and worked on his game enough to earn a spot for Mark Few's team at Gonzaga University. Basketball brought him to the United States, whether he was ready for it or not.

"My first year in college was really hard for me. I really had no English. I had no idea about the culture. The culture here is very different. I'm black, but I'm like totally Japanese. I have a Japanese soul. It was really hard to adjust and be around the American people."

Hachimura now hopes both the Wizards and the city of Washington prove a good match for him. Like all draft picks, he offers no guarantees. But the potential for something special both on and off the court certainly seems to be there.

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How to watch Pistons at Wizards ‘Predict the Game’ broadcast

How to watch Pistons at Wizards ‘Predict the Game’ broadcast

The Washington Wizards return to Capital One Arena to host the Detroit Pistons on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at 2 p.m. 

The Wizards are hoping to not only bounce back after suffering from a tough 140-111 loss in Toronto Friday night but also to snap their losing streak at home. Monday’s game will be the Wizards last home, before hitting the road until they return home on January 30th. 

The Wizards currently lead the series 2-1, the Wizards won both matchups against the Pistons on Nov.4 and Dec. 16. However, most recently the Wizards fell short 132-102 on Dec 26th. Will the Wizards be able to win the season series on Monday?

Take your Wizards experience to the next level and get involved in the action with NBC Sports Washington's newest Predict the Game contest.

'PREDICT THE GAME' HOW TO WATCH

What is this broadcast? Predict the Game is an easy-to-enter, free contest that allows fans to predict various game and player performance outcomes through a series of approximately 12-15 questions per quarter that will appear on-screen during the alternate telecast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Predict the Game leaderboards will be displayed at select times, and the winner of each contest will be revealed throughout the game and during NBC Sports Washington’s postgame coverage.

Where can I find it? Contest questions and leaderboards will be displayed on NBC Sports Washington Plus (Channel Finder).

Additionally, the broadcast can be streamed on desktopiOS and Android devices. 

The NBC Sports Washington Plus presentation will, for the first time, feature special hosts, who will appear at various times to address Predict the Game participants and provide contest updates, information and results. The enhanced experience will contain the majority of the same video and audio (including announcers) as the primary live-game coverage, which will be available simultaneously on NBC Sports Washington.

How do I win? Fans will earn points for both answering questions (1 point) and correct predictions (1 or 2 points, depending on the question), with the top eligible scorer at the end of each game earning or splitting the $500 prize.

Each quarter will be its own contest, with an entirely new leaderboard starting from scratch, so even if fans miss out on the start of the game there will still be plenty of time to play and win. 

Fans must enter Predict the Game, which is open to join throughout the entire game, and submit their predictions at www.nbcsportswashington.com/predict.

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards vs. Detroit Pistons

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 2:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards vs. Pistons will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Pistons on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS TV SCHEDULE

1:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)

1:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)

2:00 PM: Wizards vs. Pistons (LIVE)

4:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

5:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live (LIVE)

5:30 PM: Wizards Talk (LIVE)

WIZARDS 2019-20 'PREDICT THE GAME' SCHEDULE

January 6: vs Boston (7 p.m.)

January 20: vs Detroit (2 p.m.)

January 26: at Atlanta (6 p.m.)

February 3: vs Golden State (7 p.m.)

February 11: vs Chicago (7 p.m.)

February 21: vs Cleveland (7 p.m.)

February 26: vs Brooklyn (7 p.m.)

March 3: at Sacramento (10 p.m.)

March 10: vs New York (7 p.m.)

March 18: at Brooklyn (7:30 p.m.)

March 15: vs Phoenix (7 p.m.)

April 1: vs New Orleans (7 p.m.)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Warriors' Stephen Curry could return from injury on March 1 vs Wizards

Warriors' Stephen Curry could return from injury on March 1 vs Wizards

According to The Athletic's Marcus Thompson II, Steph Curry is aiming to return to play on March 1 when the Golden State Warriors host the Washington Wizards.

This game will be second of a four-game West coast swing, starting in Utah and hitting San Francisco, Sacramento and Portland before returning home.

Curry has been sidelined since Oct. 30 with a broken left hand. He had surgery on Nov. 1 and was ruled out at least three months.

If he does indeed return on March 1, he could play in 22 more regular season games this year. There were rumors that he would sit the entire season, but apparently Curry is focused on a return this spring, according to more from Thompson II. 

"I've been making progress," Curry said via NBC Sports Bay Area during the Warriors game vs Orlando on Saturday. "No setbacks which is definitely encouraging to get back to 100% as soon as possible."

The Wizards vs Warriors game will tipoff at 8:30 p.m. EST.

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