Rui Hachimura, Wizards face quick adjustment from Japan to NBA season

SAITAMA, Japan — Rui Hachimura was a fount of knowledge for his teammates during the Washington Wizards’ four-day stay in Japan, the expert on everything from where to eat after games to where to go out after the game dinner to what teams ate at said dinner. No, Kristaps Porzingis, that wasn’t shabu-shabu, a version of Japanese hot pot, you had the other night. It was teppanyaki, which is food cooked on an iron plate.

Hachimura gave the Japanese reporters a laugh as he cleaned up.

Given this wealth of information, one could expect Hachimura to help guide his teammates through the task they face now that the tour is over, one that is even more difficult than playing the Golden State Warriors twice during preseason – The Wizards lost their second game at the Saitama Super Arena 104-95 on Sunday.

When they land back in DC, the Wizards must acclimatize their body clocks so they can work efficiently toward being in top shape for the start of the NBA season on October 19.

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“For me, it’s just … I would say like: When you need to sleep, you sleep. And when you have to be up, you just stay up,” Hachimura said, laughing as the room cracked once more.

Hachimura admitted that as a 24-year-old professional athlete who is a veteran of international travel, the whole adjustment is easier for him than most. But the Wizards and Warriors will take the next few days seriously to try and cut the cost of traveling halfway around the world and back in less than a week.

“I think this coming week is probably the most important week in camp given the irregularity of what we just did, coming to Japan after only three practices,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. And the Warriors don’t travel for the next three weeks or so.

The Wizards, on the other hand, return to action on October 10th for a game in Charlotte and then head to New York for their final preseason game against the Knicks on October 14th.

Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Washington will have a day off on Monday after landing sometime late Sunday night in DC, ease the players back into action and then in the following days get them back up for competition. That’s where Unseld expects Deni Avdija, who has yet to be a full participant in camp and missed both preseason games with a left groin strain, to begin playing the competitive portions of practice.

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Corey Kispert Sunday night in Japan was the most pressing concern — he sprained his left ankle in the first quarter Sunday and will have to receive mid-air treatment because the Wizards left on their flight home directly after the game.

“I just passed him, there was a swelling … we’ll see,” Unseld said when asked about the severity of the injury.

But the exhaustion, the physical toll and the less-than-ideal schedules going forward were all costs the Wizards and Warriors knew they would have to pay.

During international exhibitions, teams reap individual benefits to be sure, whether it’s putting Hachimura in front of his home fans or expanding the Warriors’ brand overseas. But they also serve the league, sacrificing a comfortable training camp at home for the greater cause of spreading the game of basketball — and the NBA product — around the world.

These games are business trips. If that leads to more Hachimuras entering the league a decade from now, the Wizards and Warriors say a few days of jet lag is a small price to pay.

“It’s been fun to see the Japanese players come into the league and have success, and I hope we have more and more,” Kerr said. “Part of the reason for a tour like this is to bring the game to young kids in Japan and hopefully they’re really playing and developing and we’d love nothing more in a couple of years than to see 10 Japanese players in the league instead for by two or three. That’s the idea.”

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“I think overall they really enjoyed the experience,” Unseld said. “Obviously Rui is a big part of it. I think they rallied around him and he’s been a bright spot – his personality is showing more and more, he’s at home, he’s happy, he’s excited to be here. Just the warm welcome we’ve received since we landed definitely makes the trip a lot more enjoyable. … I know it’s a very compressed schedule. It’s worth it.”

Porzingis said his lasting takeaway from the trip is that he got to experience a new culture and see how another part of the world supports basketball. Kerr called it an “impactful” visit that could set a positive tone for the rest of the season. Hachimura said over and over how special a visit it was for him to serve as an ambassador and tour guide for his team.

“It was a special moment for me, this team and this country,” he said. “This whole trip was special, different, just a great experience for me and this team.”

That doesn’t mean players won’t come back down to earth on Monday when their bodies cry out in the middle of the day after a long sleep. Unseld mentioned that the Wizards have it planned — in addition to the few days off, the team’s medical staff has provided guidelines for ideal nap lengths and times throughout the day.

Hachimura, for one, plans to take his own advice.

“You just have to stay up,” he said. “At night you just have to sleep.”

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