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[ODDS and EVENS] Rui Hachimura’s Excused Absence Was Shrouded in Secrecy

Hachimura, who has been absent since the start of training camp, is now getting ready to join his Washington Wizards teammates for the upcoming NBA season.

Ed Odeven

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Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura attacks the basket in a game against the Houston Rockets on February 15. (NBAE/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO NEWS)

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Eventually, we may learn more about why Rui Hachimura was granted an excused absence by the Washington Wizards for the start of training camp late last month.

For an NBA team with a new head coach (Wes Unseld Jr.) and several new players after the departure of triple-double machine Russell Westbrook in a major trade with the Los Angeles Lakers this summer, the Wizards are starting anew again. Having all key components of the team’s roster working out, competing with and interacting with one another is important.

Hachimura’s absence from camp could prove to be a big setback for him in getting adjusted to Unseld’s style of play. Or Hachimura could quickly learn on the fly when he laces up his sneakers and practices and plays for the rebuilt team again. Or his productivity could be a mixture of progress and struggles. We shall see.

First things first: Hachimura is now waiting to rejoin the Wizards, who play their fourth and final preseason game on Friday, October 15 against the New York Knicks.

“I’m certainly glad that he’s back and I look forward to the opportunity for him to get ingratiated into what we’re doing. But right now there’s really no timetable,” Unseld told reporters on Tuesday, October 12, a day after Hachimura reportedly arrived in Washington.

Before he joins his teammates for workouts and games, Hachimura will need to be cleared by the Wizards medical staff. This could keep him out of action for a week or longer, including the team’s exhibition game against the Knicks and the team’s regular-season opener against Yuta Watanabe and the Toronto Raptors on October 20 in Canada.

The third-year pro out of Gonzaga University missed 39 of 144 games in his first two seasons due to a variety of injuries, including a painful bout with pink eye at the start of the 2020-21 campaign and COVID-19-related protocols. When active, he’s produced solid numbers for the Wizards: 13.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.8 steals per game.

NBA analyst John Hollinger of The Athletic succinctly summed up Hachimura’s second season this way: “Clear progress from rookie season but needs more consistent 3-point threat.”

The Wizards issued a statement on September 25 announcing that Hachimura wouldn’t be with the team when preseason training camp began. 

“Wizards forward Rui Hachimura will miss the start of training camp due to personal reasons. Hachimura’s absence has been excused and the team will provide further updates when appropriate,” read the statement.

For several weeks now, Wizards brass didn’t dish out details about the heart of the matter. And Unseld discussed the issue briefly with reporters last week, but didn’t divulge any real information, either.

“Right now we’re giving him the time he needs,” Unseld said of Hachimura, who texted team officials last month to inform them he needed time off. “We have been in contact with him ー he’s kept us abreast of his situation.” 

Yes, there was plenty of online speculation about why the Japan Olympic delegation flagbearer for the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Games wasn’t with his teammates when training camp opened up. But it was like throwing darts at the wall while blindfolded.

Is Social Media a Problem for Hachimura?

Social media threads contained cryptic references to Hachimura’s mental health, suggesting he was taking a break from the pressures of pro ball to focus on his mental wellbeing. 

Other online posts pointed out that Hachimura’s Instagram account deleted a significant number of accounts he was following. Now, he’s only following his Black Samurai clothing label account. He has 512,000 Instagram followers. 

Similarly, the Toyama native’s Twitter account is now down to zero accounts being followed. He has some 216,900 followers. (Indeed, clicking unfollow, or asking somebody to do it for you, hundreds or thousands of times has nothing to do with taking jump shots in the preseason. )

Is there anything significant about the fact that his high-profile Instagram and Twitter accounts have zero reciprocity now in terms of followers?

Did Hachimura develop an addiction to spending countless hours on Instagram and Twitter?

Clearly, an inquisitive reporter will ask Hachimura about this in the near future. It will be interesting to see how he responds to questions about his absence ー or if he’ll decline to offer any revelations.

Playing basketball is a job that requires focus and dedication. Maybe Hachimura was distracted by social media interactions. Or perhaps a death or serious illness in his family.

Personal privacy can be quite difficult in this era of instant information. Carving out space and time to think about future goals and other serious matters is challenging.

A Look Ahead

The Wizards exercised the team option on Hachimura’s contract last December. He’s set to earn $4.9 million USD (¥556.5 million JPY) this season. The team also has another option on his contract for 2022-23, with an increase in salary to $6.26 million USD (¥711 million JPY).

Whatever Hachimura has been dealing with that’s kept him away from his job is an important private issue, I believe.

That said, Year 3 of his pro career is also quite important. Will he be a dependable, regular contributor in 2021-22? Is he ready and focused to take his game to another level? 

The Wizards, who selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, have invested three seasons in him now. The average NBA career is 4.5 years, so Hachimura has plenty to prove to his new coach.

The NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Players come and go.

Rui Hachimura needs to be in the spotlight as an active player to provide a steady reminder of what he can do on the basketball court.

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Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.