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From grandma to Vince Carter, Gonzaga players explain their uniform number choices

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 26, 2018, 6:42 p.m.

Rui Hachimura faced a minor dilemma.

He was picking a uniform number for his freshman season at Gonzaga and his preference was No. 8. In his native Japan, Hachi means “eight,” considered a number of good fortune.

But No. 8 wasn’t happening. NCAA rules prohibit numerals 6, 7, 8 and 9 to minimize confusion when officials use hand signals to report fouls to the scorer’s table. Numbers like 1, 32 and 55 are permissible but not 8, 27 and 61.

“I just showed a list of numbers to my grandma and she picked 21,” Hachimura smiled. “She said, ‘I just like this number.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ ”

There’s usually a story behind players’ numbers at virtually every level of basketball. The Zags are no different, picking numbers that carry special significance to family members, a favorite NBA player and a tribute to their homeland.

Hachimura wore No. 23 with the Japanese national team. There was a No. 8, but it belonged to Atsuya Ota, the team’s elder statesman at 34. Ota offered the number to Hachimura.

“He said it was cool,” Hachimura said, “but I said not cool.”

Chicago native Zach Norvell Jr. sports No. 23, which makes perfect sense given superstar Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships with the Bulls.

“Michael Jordan does have something to do with it, but my dad also wore 23 in college,” Norvell said. “He’s my role model, a guy that I’ve looked up to my whole life. It’s my dad.”

Norvell’s dad scored 497 career points for New Mexico State from 1999-2001. The elder Norvell’s affinity for sweets is also responsible for Zach’s nickname “Snacks.”

Sophomore wing Corey Kispert has a similar connection with his No. 24. A picture of Kispert’s dad, Craig, hangs in the man cave at the family home near Seattle. He’s in his Denver Christian High School No. 24 uniform on a ladder halfway through the hoop, flexing and smiling.

“My dad wore 24 in high school and college (Seattle Pacific) and the number kind of got passed down to me,” Kispert said. “After that when Kobe (Bryant) got the number, it was ‘Oh yeah, it’s Kobe, it’s all Kobe,’ but I’ve just worn 24 for as long as I can remember.”

Freshman Filip Petrusev’s No. 3 has meaningful roots in his native Serbia.

“It’s like a symbol of our country,” he said. “Whenever we celebrate something or a win we always show it like this (demonstrates using thumb and two fingers). It’s like our thing.”

The digit wasn’t available back home because numbers usually ranged between 4 and 15.

“They recently made a new rule that you can wear it,” Petrusev said, “so since then I am always trying to get 3 if I can.”

A few Zags came by their numbers almost by happenstance. Geno Crandall used to wear No. 25 in tribute to an older friend who wore the number at his Minneapolis high school. It wasn’t an option when he arrived at North Dakota so he asked what was available.

“Zero was the first one they said so I said, ‘All right, let’s do it,’ ” said Crandall, who stayed with zero at GU.

Senior Jeremy Jones offered a shrug explaining why he wears No. 22.

“No reason,” he said. “I was always 22 in AAU, middle school. I got to high school and they gave me 24 because I had a cousin that won a state championship about 20 years before I was there. When I got here, No. 22 was available so I went back to it. I think I look good in deuce deuce.”

Assistant coach Tommy Lloyd had No. 14 at Kelso (Washington) High because his coach, Jeff Reinland, had worn it and “he told me he thought I should wear it.” Reinland also coached Lloyd at Walla Walla Community College, where Lloyd dropped a school-record 52 points against Treasure Valley.

Junior forward Brandon Clarke’s No. 15 is in appreciation of NBA veteran Vince Carter.

“When I was younger I used to love him, all his dunks,” said Clarke, who wore No. 15 at San Jose State before transferring.

Junior forward Killian Tillie’s No. 33 and senior guard Josh Perkins’ No. 13 are for reasons part basketball, part family.

In high school, Perkins wore No. 3 and his backup, younger brother, Cameron, was No. 1. When Cameron suffered a torn ACL, Perkins combined the numbers to wear No. 13.

“First, I like the number,” Tillie said of 33. “Then I’m the third brother in the family, 3, and I like making 3s, so another 3. That’s basically it.”

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