NEW YORK (AP) - Rui Hachimura used to adore a manga and anime series called "Slam Dunk," which followed a high school basketball team's trials and tribulations and helped bring the sport into the Japanese consciousness.
Though Hachimura was born in Toyama Prefecture two years after the series ended in 1996, he was still profoundly influenced by its cultural impact.
So was Joji Sakamoto, his coach at Okuda Junior High who told Hachimura after his first practice that he was in for big things on the basketball court - in the United States.
"He pointed at me and said: 'You're going to the NBA,'" said Hachimura, the Gonzaga forward who is expected to be the first Japanese-born first-round pick, and just the third to play in the league. "At that time, I was stupid, I believed him. And he was for real, too. He was serious about it. And I really believed him. And I'm really here now. It's crazy."
Hachimura had never played basketball before meeting Sakamoto at age 13. Sakamoto ente