Ira Brown and Rui Hachimura go way back.
Back to when Brown first started playing professional basketball in Japan eight years ago. Back before Hachimura started playing basketball.
Brown was a member of the Toyoma Grouses from 2011-14. Hachimura is from Toyoma and his father befriended Brown.
“I met his dad first at a local bar there and I started giving his dad tickets to the games, because he said his son and family was really interested in basketball,” Brown said. “I ended up giving Rui shoes because his size is difficult to find in Japan.”
“I wasn’t even playing basketball at that time,” Hachimura said. “He sometimes talked to me about basketball. Sometimes I’d go eat with him and he gave me shoes.”
Brown has had a front-row seat to Hachimura’s rise to prominence in Japan. Hachimura took to basketball in middle school and quickly made a name for himself in high school and playing on Japanese junior national teams.
Hachimura’s three years at Gonzaga – he’s an All-America candidate this season – and his strong play for Japan’s improving national team have elevated him to superstar status in his homeland.
Japanese media cover GU home and road games. There’s a strong chance Hachimura could be a first-round NBA draft choice – a first for a Japanese-born player – if he decides to skip his senior season.
“He is a rock star to the country,” said Brown, a naturalized Japanese citizen who played with Hachimura on the national team for two FIBA World Cup wins in September. “He’s very special. He has size. He may not look strong, but he’s strong and he has quickness around the basket.
“He’s a really good dude, good personality. He’s a really fun guy when he gets to know you. If he doesn’t know you, he’s really shy.”
Hachimura smiled recalling his parallels with the former Zag.
“I started to play basketball. I came to Gonzaga and I didn’t know he was from Gonzaga, too,” Hachimura said. “He’s on the national team. It’s crazy, yeah.”
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