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Signing with Jordan Brand is a dream come true for Rui Hachimura

Signing with Jordan Brand is a dream come true for Rui Hachimura

Growing up in Japan, Wizards first-round pick Rui Hachimura's early childhood took place around the same time that Michael Jordan was finishing up his playing career in the nation's capital. Though Hachimura could only watch "His Airness" through highlight videos on YouTube, he quickly took notice in Jordan's basketball skills and sneaker style.

"He’s really nice, he’s like art," Hachimura said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller.

Fast forward to 2019 and Hachimura is now a member of the Washington Wizards. He'll also now get to don the brand he admired growing up, as he recently signed a deal with Jordan Brand.

“It’s been an honor, it’s a real honor. Actually, I didn’t even imagine I’m going to be part of this Jordan Brand family," Hachimura said. "All the basketball players, athletes already top players. I can be a part of it. I’m so happy about it.”

His joy is sparked by a few different aspects of what Jordan Brand means to him. Spending a majority of his life in a country where the NBA is just now growing, Hachimura's exposure to NBA stars was limited at times. Even with that, the name Michael Jordan still made its way to Japan.

Jordan's fame came largely with his basketball skill, but his popularity in Japan was also due in part to the inspiration he spread into the minds of those hoping to someday achieve what he did. 

“People know about basketball, but also like a great person," Hachimura said about Jordan. "He helped a lot of things, inspired a lot of kids. People know, kids and different generations, a lot of people know about him.”

Additionally, Hachimura's affection for Jordan Brand also lies within the style of the sneakers, because it's basically all he's ever worn. An avid sneakerhead, his dedication to rocking Jordan Brand shoes began long before he signed a contract. 

“I’ve been wearing those shoes since kids. I only wear Jordans," Hachimura said. "Outside, not basketball on the court, off the court always wear Jordans and stuff. So I have a lot of shoes.”

The Retro 4's hold a strong place in his heart, but Hachimura also has love for the Concord 11's and Russell Westbrooks "Why Not?" custom design. 

In general, the Thunder point guard is someone Hachimura has a great amount of respect for. Westbrook and fellow Jordan Brand athlete Carmelo Anthony are the two players he's most excited about now being alongside, both for their play and their sometimes larger than life outfits.

“They’re like really unique guys. I really like fashion and stuff. I really like those people’s fashion, but also who they are," Hachimura said. "They’re really great persons.”

While his love for Jordan Brand came from the players he's watched growing up, Hachimura now has a chance to make his own mark on the brand. It's clear that he'll have no problem with the fashion side of things, but the rookie is also hoping that this will be an opportunity to help continue to grow the game and the brand where he grew up.

“I think I want to do more on the Japanese side," There are a lot of people who know the Jordans and stuff, Nike is big there too, but there are also other brands like Mizuno, like a Japanese brand. I want to get more exposure for Jordan Brand, as the first Japanese athlete.”

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More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

More good injury news for Wizards, this time with Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles

WASHINGTON -- With their regular-season opener set for Wednesday, the Wizards keep getting positive news with the injuries that have plagued them throughout training camp and the preseason. On Monday, both Troy Brown Jr. and C.J. Miles made their practice debuts and Moe Wagner also practiced after getting hurt in the team's last preseason games.

Brown has been out all of preseason due to a strained left calf. Miles has also missed all of preseason after having surgery on his left foot in July. Wagner has been dealing with a bruised back after a collision with Joel Embiid of the Sixers. It sounds like he could be fully cleared soon.

Head coach Scott Brooks tempered expectations on Brown and Miles, noting they did not participate in a full practice and that the regular season is just two days away.

"They went through parts of practice, but not the meat of it, not the bulk of it. But it's a good step," Brooks said.

When asked if Brown and Miles would play on Wednesday when the Wizards battle the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks said he doesn't "anticipate that happening." But for them to get out there at all is a good sign given they are slated to be the top two small forwards on the roster.

With Brown and Miles likely still out for the opener, Brooks may have to go with a big lineup including Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans, or with someone with little NBA experience like Isaac Bonga. He had Bonga start in several preseason games with them out.

For Brown, this has been the longest injury absence of his young career. He had never missed this much time previously at any level.

He was just happy to be back on the court Monday, even if he wasn't yet cleared for contact.

"It's just one of those things where I was itching to get back. A lot of time off, it can be good and back. I just tried to use it as a learning lesson," he said. 

Brown and Miles practicing came one day after point guard Isaiah Thomas practiced fully for the first time since his left thumb surgery in September. With so many players out, Brooks wasn't able to get a full read on his new-look roster during the preseason.

But slowly and surely his players are coming back and it may not be long before the Wizards can suit up with the roster they had in mind during the offseason.

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Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

Garrison Mathews is ready to put Lipscomb University on the NBA map

WASHINGTON -- Garrison Mathews, believe it or not, was not always a shooter. He didn't consider himself one in high school or even early in college. But now, at 22 years old, he has a two-way contract with the Wizards and the primary reason is because of his outside shooting.

Mathews, in a sense, has shot his way to the NBA and is now poised to be the first player in the league ever to come from Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.

"It's a crazy experience," Mathews said. "I enjoy being able to put Lipscomb on the map a little bit. Obviously, they haven't had much exposure and they've given me a lot. It's nice helping and giving back in a way."

So, how did we get here? Well, it wasn't always going to be about basketball. Mathews comes from Franklin, Tenn., where high school football is king. Mathews' grandfather was on the 1962 national championship team at Ole Miss. Mathews at one point was on track to follow in those footsteps.

He played wide receiver and tight end in high school and still misses the game.

"There's nothing like it," Mathews said of football.

But as he grew to 6-foot-5 with speed and an improving jumpshot, colleges came calling. And, once they did, Mathews made the difficult decision to focus on basketball full-time. 

Through his early years in college, Mathews realized playing in the NBA was a possiblity. So, he grinded through summers, sharpening his jumper. 

Slowly, but surely, they started falling more consistently.

"I don't know, it just kind of happened that way," Mathews said of becoming known for his shooting.

Mathews shot 34.9 percent from the perimeter his freshman year at Lipscomb. By his senior year, he was making 40.3 percent on eight attempts per game.

And it wasn't just the volume or the percentage that improved, it was the variety of shots he felt confident to even try. If anything has stood out about Mathews so far during his brief tenure with the Wizards, it is his ability to make shots without his feet being set.

Mathews made a shot in a preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 7 in which his feet were facing the sideline when he caught the ball off a screen. He turned quickly before rising and knocked it down.

Mathews can straighten out his shooting form mid-air and it's something not many players can do. He has worked on it for years.

"There's a lot of times in my workouts where I'm coming off screens or practicing [dribble hand-offs] where I'm coming off a screen and just jumping in the air. That's part of my regiment when I work out," he said.

Mathews has made shots like that consistently in practice, but doing so in a game is a different story. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has seen plenty of players come along who can't translate what they do in practices to games.

So, he's not ready to crown Mathews as the next J.J. Redick. 

"The percentages will be able to tell us eventually whether those are shots he can make or if we have to have better footwork," Brooks said.

"There's only a few guys that can really square up basically in mid-air and be able to have it. Brad [Beal] has the ability to do that and it took him some time. I don't know if he's one of them, Garrison."

The list of players who make those shots often certainly isn't long. Redick is one, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors can certainly be included. Kyle Korver of the Bucks also comes to mind.

Korver, in fact, spent some time with Mathews before the Wizards' game against Milwaukee on Oct. 13. Mathews says he has long been compared to Korver, so he listened intently to what Korver had to say.

"I appreciated that from him. It meant a lot," Mathews said.

"[He told me that] when he practices, when he does individual stuff, he goes as hard as he can. And then he works on his body almost as much as he does on the court."

Mathews is confident, but also realistic. He said he would like to follow Korver's path, but knows he has a long way to go to carve out a career like Korver has.

"I feel like later in my career I can be a little bit like him. Maybe not as great as him because he's a great shooter," Mathews said. "But it's cool being able to guard somebody that a lot of people compare you to when you were growing up."

Mathews has learned through his development as a shooter that hard work can lead to success and sometimes even in ways that are unexpected. Maybe someday he will be in Korver's shoes, offering advice to a young player looking up to him.

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