Rui Hachimura, wearing special attire for the occasion, made history Thursday night in New York and Japan and contributed to another major milestone for Gonzaga.
The Washington Wizards need help at several positions but opted to bolster their frontcourt by selecting Hachimura ninth overall, making him the first Japanese-born player ever taken in the first round.
“I mean it’s crazy, it’s unreal,” Hachimura told ESPN’s Maria Taylor, shortly after posing for pictures with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on the stage at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “It means a lot for me, my family and for my country. I’m so thankful.”
The inside lining of Hachimura’s suit coat was a tribute to his heritage, one half honoring his Japanese mother and the other half for his father from the West African nation Benin.
Brandon Clarke, the other half of Gonzaga’s dynamic forward tandem last season, endured a much longer wait than Hachimura. There were several surprise selections in the middle third of the first round before Clarke, projected by some to go in the lottery (top 14), was taken 21st overall by Memphis, which acquired the pick in a draft-night trade with Oklahoma City. The trade will not be made official until the league begins its new season on July 6.
It marked the first time in program history that the Zags produced two first-round picks. The last time a WCC team had a pair of first-round selections was in 1978 when San Francisco’s James Hardy went 11th and Winford Boynes was taken at No. 13.
GU’s Zach Norvell Jr., pegged as a second-round pick in several mock drafts, and Josh Perkins went undrafted. On Friday, Norvell signed a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Coach (Mark) Few and I have talked about it and when we stop and assess it it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for the program,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said of the pair of first-rounders. “One of the coolest things about it is Rui and Brandon, and Snacks (Norvell) and Josh, those guys weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans.
“They all developed and grew into the players they’ve become. It shows if guys come to our program and do the Zag thing they can develop and improve and put themselves into position to do what a lot of kids (dream) about.”
One of those dreamers was Clarke, who spent his first two years at San Jose State before blossoming into an All-American after sitting out the 2018 season under transfer rules.
Clarke’s journey — late bloomer, lightly recruited out of high school that developed into one of the top players in college basketball — didn’t earn as many headlines as Hachimura’s, but it was impressive in its own right.
“It was just so much work, and so much trust in myself, my teammates and my coaches I’ve had,” said Clarke, who hugged family members and Few in the green room after his name was announced by Silver. “I’m just really grateful for all that stuff that happened to me.”
Hachimura’s emergence in his last two seasons as a Zag was chronicled by Japanese media, sometimes numbering in the teens. That figure soared to 46 Japanese media on hand for the draft. ESPN aired footage from Japanese television coverage of Hachimura shortly after his selection.
Hachimura was asked to relay a message to his homeland. He did so in Japanese and smiled as he provided the English translation: “I said, I’m the first (Japanese) guy in the NBA that got drafted.”
He became the second-highest drafted Zag behind Adam Morrison, who went No. 3 to Charlotte in 2006.
“He’s somebody we’ve watched for the last two years,” Wizards interim president Tommy Sheppard told The Washington Post. “We think he’s got potential to be a tremendous two-way player.
“He can hit the court but I think the expectations, we’re going to manage him for him,” Sheppard added. “But I think he’ll be able to contribute right away.”
Hachimura is in line to make roughly $7.6 million in his first two seasons. The rookie salary scale, according to realgm.com, for the ninth pick is $3,719,500 in his first year and $3,905,600 in the second year. Players can sign for as much as 120% and as little as 80% of those figures. The first two years are guaranteed.
Clarke should earn in the neighborhood of $4.2 million in his first two seasons.
“A night to remember!” Clarke tweeted. “Focused and ready to put in this work.”