Less than a month after the Toronto Raptors sent Canada into a basketball fever pitch when they clinched their first NBA Championship, it may soon be Japan’s time to join in on the hype.
On Thursday night, 21-year-old Rui Hachimura became the first Japanese national drafted in the first round of the NBA lottery. The 6’8” forward was picked 9th and will be leaving Gonzaga University to play for the Washington Wizards in the upcoming season.
Hachimura isn’t the first Japanese national to play in the NBA. That distinction goes to Yuta Tabuse who played for the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns. Another Japanese player, Yuta Watanabe, is currently part of the Memphis Grizzlies on a two-way contract with the Memphis Hustle of the NBA G League. However, Hachimura is the very first Japanese man to be drafted as opposed to entering the league via contract—and to be drafted 9th at that.
In the NBA draft lottery, top prospects are picked first, which means that Hachimura bested 51 of 60 players picked every round of the draft. To be drafted in the first round, let alone in the top 10, means that Hachimura’s career in the NBA is off to a good start.
Born in the Toyama Prefecture in 1998, Hachimura started playing basketball after he was inspired by the anime series Slam Dunk. The series propelled the first wave of basketball fever in Japan. “Rui Hachimura, if he succeeds, it’s going to be another level,” said VICE News Tonight correspondent Dexter Thomas.
Interest in the sport is also on an upswing in Japan. The NBA is slated to play two pre-season games there in October as part of an effort to boost its popularity in the country. Hachimura entering the NBA means Japan has a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season.
In a report by Bleacher Report, Hachimura was praised for his “good skill and athleticism” and tagged to “play either forward spot and can make a positive impact on both ends.” Hachimura joins the Washington Wizards as they rebuild their roster with point guard John Wall.
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.