CHICAGO -- When Rui Hachimura gave up baseball to focus on basketball full-time in junior high school, he was all in. Like, all in.

Due to the time difference in Japan, he would skip school and stay home to watch All-Star weekend events in the morning. His parents didn't exactly sign off on it, but Hachimura wouldn't be told otherwise.

"They didn't like it," he told NBC Sports Washington. "But they knew basketball was my only thing. I loved to watch basketball, especially when I didn't have to go to school and stay home. I would watch by myself. That was like my favorite moment as a kid."

On Friday night in Chicago, Hachimura will become the first Japanese-born player to participate in All-Star weekend. He earned a spot on the World Team roster for the Rising Stars Challenge due to the fact he has been one of the best rookies in the NBA this season.

Now it's his turn to perform for fans at the annual showcase. And he knows there will be plenty of Japanese children watching, just like he did years ago.

"It means a lot, for sure. Right now, you can watch the NBA all over Japan. It's easier to see. A lot of kids are going to watch it and look at me. It's crazy," he said.

Hachimura, 21, has enjoyed a strong rookie year so far after being selected by the Wizards with the ninth overall pick in last June's NBA Draft. He's averaging 13.9 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 48.7 percent from the field.


Hachimura will play in the game alongside his teammate, Moe Wagner of Germany. They are the first Wizards representatives in the game since Bradley Beal in 2013. Beal and John Wall were the only Wizards to earn the honors from 2004 until this year.

Hachimura, though, will have an entirely different situation when it comes to media interest. There were 46 Japanese reporters credentialed for his introductory press conference following the draft last summer. Friday is expected to be a madhouse when he takes the podium for media day.

Hachimura has been under the media microscope since he was in middle school, ever since it was evident he had a chance to be the best Japanese basketball player of all-time.

"It's been getting bigger every year since I was in junior high school. I try to just get used to it and focus on what I have to do. I always think about how I just like to play basketball. I just focus on that," he said.

Hachimura has already represented Japan at just about every level of basketball, except for the All-Star stage. That changes this weekend.

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