The safe bet for Gonzaga’s latest breakout star is one of the best performers at this week’s U19 World Cup.
Rui Hachimura, a 6-foot-9 forward from Japan, put on a show all week long, averaging 19.5 points and 11.8 boards while shooting 6-for-14 from three in four games. He capped the event off with a 22 point and 14 rebound performance which included a pair of threes where he went end-to-end in the final 15 seconds to tie a game against Italy that Japan would ultimately lose. Hachimura averaged 2.6 points in less than 10 minutes as a freshman last season.
Hachimura isn’t super-explosive, but he is a skilled combo-forward built in the mold of a current Gonzaga front court player — Johnathan Williams III. Whether Hachimura will start this year is unclear, as Williams is still on the roster and Killian Tillie, another player participating in the U19 World Cup, has plenty of promise in his own right, but that should tell you more about the status of the Gonzaga program than anything.
Think about it: Gonzaga lost a first-team All-American (Nigel Williams-Goss) and a top ten pick (Zach Collins) to early entry while watching their front court anchor (Przemek Karnowski) and best shooter (Jordan Mathews) graduate, yet they return a roster where a former four-star recruit (Josh Perkins) will finally be able to slide into his natural point guard role and one of two big men with NBA potential (Tillie and Hachimura) will have to come off the bench.
Although it does make you wonder: If Williams-Goss and Collins had both returned to school, would Gonzaga have been the consensus No. 1 team in the country?