While Rui Hachimura's immediate future in the NBA will be determined later this month, one superstar of the world's top basketball league says the young Japanese forward will fit right in.
Speaking to the media Friday night during a visit to Tokyo, Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker was happy to stump for Hachimura ahead of the NBA draft to be held on June 20.
"I think one day he is going to be a big name in the NBA," Walker said of Hachimura, the Gonzaga University standout who looks set to be selected by a pro team somewhere in the mid to late first round.
"I am looking forward to seeing his growth and his progress over the year. I think he is going to be a really good player," said Walker.
In Tokyo to make an appearance at an NBA finals watch party hosted by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Walker, himself a college basketball legend for his heroics in carrying the University of Connecticut to an NCAA title in 2011, said he was very familiar with Hachimura's game.
"I'm a big college basketball fan, I got a chance to watch Rui a lot...I have always been a fan," he said.
He explained that, as a power forward, Hachimura is a perfect fit for the modern NBA in which the most successful frontcourt players can use their size, athleticism, versatility and, ideally, jump shot to impact the game.
"The way the league is now, being able to get up and down (the court) at his size, I think he will do very well and I think his game will translate," said Walker, 29, who recently was rewarded with his first All-NBA selection after averaging a career-high 25.6 points per game in the 2018-2019 season.
When asked what advice he has for young players like Hachimura and Yuta Watanabe, Japan's second-ever NBA player who just completed his rookie season playing on a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, Walker said they have to realize a career in the league is more marathon than sprint.
"It's every single night, it is the best league in the world and you are playing against the best players in the world every single night. So, the challenge on that level is you just have to be prepared each and every night to bring your best," he advised.
A member of the United States' extended national team squad, Walker might get an early taste of what the Japanese players have to offer at this year's FIBA Basketball World Cup, to be played in China in August and September.
If Walker plays, something he said he would like to do, he will come up against Japan in the group stage, with the Akatsuki Five, Turkey and the Czech Republic set to battle it out with the Americans for a place in the second round.
"It will be an honor, of course, it will be the first time in my professional career that I will get the opportunity to compete for the U.S.A. team," he said.
"It will be an honor to play against Japan. I love playing against different competition, especially guys from another country, so I am looking forward to it."
Speaking at the same event, Makoto Hiejima and Ryusei Shinoyama, two key members of the Japan national team that put together an amazing eight-game winning streak to secure a place at the World Cup, also sang the praises of Hachimura.
Shinoyama, who plays for the Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the B-League, said the national team got a huge spark when Hachimura arrived from the United States.
"We battled together as teammates in the World Cup qualifiers, and even though he is still young, he showed himself to be a player we could count on," said Shinoyama.
Perhaps the Japanese team's most consistent performer on the journey to the World Cup, Hiejima said the 21-year-old Hachimura was the team's World Cup savior, a particularly salient comment considering a failure to reach the tournament may have jeopardized the chances of the team being given a place at the Tokyo Olympics.
"He joined us for the World Cup qualifiers when we were hanging on the cliff's edge. We beat Australia (in June 2018) and he showed what an incredible talent he is," said Hiejima.