Basketball: Japan's Rui Hachimura makes history in NBA draft; Pelicans choose Williamson first

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Rui Hachimura became the first Japanese player selected in the first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft after being chosen ninth overall by the Washington Wizards on Thursday (June 20).

He will become just the third from Japan to play in the NBA, joining Yuta Tabuse (Phoenix Suns) and Yuta Watanabe (Memphis Grizzlies).

“It means lot for me, my family and my whole country. I am the first,” said the 2.05-metre Hachimura.

The New Orleans Pelicans made Duke standout Zion Williamson the No. 1 selection in the entry draft.

The wo-metre, 129kg Williamson wore a white suit and sat with his mother as he heard his name called at New York’s Barclays Center arena.

“I didn’t think I would be in this position,” Williamson said. “I wouldn’t be here without my mom. I just want to thank her. She put her dreams aside for mine.”

Williamson beat Murray State’s Ja Morant as the top overall pick. Guard Morant went second to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The New York Knicks made Canadian forward R.J. Barrett the third pick in the annual selection of college players that helps NBA teams replenish their talent pools.

The Pelicans were expected to take Williamson first and he now becomes the new face of the organisation that traded NBA big man Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers last weekend.

Williamson, who turns 19 on July 6, played one season at Duke where he averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 33 games. He added 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

He was the consensus National Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American.

The Pelicans like his humble nature, explosive offence and high basketball IQ which he employs at both ends of the court.

New Orleans went 33-49 last season and recently agreed to a blockbuster deal to send centre Davis to the Lakers for a package of players and draft picks.

The Grizzlies took point guard and playmaker Morant second as they try to build a five-man core unit that will get them out of the cellar in the Western Conference.

Morant, a dynamic athlete and a solid three-point shooter, led the his college to the second round of the NCAA playoff tournament, averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 assists per game.

“It feels good to be able to accomplish my dream,” Morant said. “I believe in myself and I had the right people around me, like my family.”

He joins a Memphis club that on Tuesday agreed to trade point guard Mike Conley to the Utah Jazz for forwards Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver, the No. 23 pick on Thursday and a future first-round pick.

Barrett, of Toronto, is expected to thrive on the big stage in New York. Like Williamson, Barrett played for Duke.

“I have given this game all I got for long time and I am just ready for this,” Barrett said. “I am thankful I get to represent my country because that’s what made me. It’s great to be on this stage.”

His parents both attended St John’s University in Queens, New York where his mother was a member of the track team and his father a basketball star.

“My late grandfather, rest in peace, he was the biggest Knicks fan. He’d always tell me I’d play for the Knicks. It would mean a lot to me,” he said.

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