Wat Misaka Rui Hachimura 032019

Ogden native Wat Misaka, center left, talks with Gonzaga big man Rui Hachimura, right, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in a lower tunnel at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Misaka, 95, who played at Ogden High School, Weber State College and University of Utah in the 1940s, was the first non-white player and player of Asian descent to play professional basketball in the United States. Hachimura is on track to become the first player of Japanese descent to be drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft.

SALT LAKE CITY — The conversation lasted a few minutes.

But sometimes that’s all it takes to make an impact.

On Wednesday, the day before Gonzaga’s first-round NCAA Tournament tilt with Fairleigh Dickinson, the Bulldogs’ Japanese-born forward Rui Hachimura met Wataru “Wat” Misaka.

“He was nice, he was very honored ... he gave me a picture that showed me when he was playing in the NBA. It was very cool,” Hachimura said Saturday after GU’s 83-71, second-round win over Baylor in Salt Lake City.

They were both excited to meet each other.

“I don’t know,” Hachimura said, smiling. “He looked excited, too, but I was excited.”

Misaka, 95, is something of a legend in Ogden. He was born in Ogden, went to Ogden High, Weber State College and then the University of Utah.

He served for two years in the U.S. Army during World War II. Misaka was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Weber State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.

In 2018, the basketball court at Ogden’s Liberty Park was renamed “Kilowatt Court” in honor of Misaka, who garnered the nickname “Kilowatt.”

Misaka is perhaps most well-known for becoming the first professional basketball player of Asian descent to play in the NBA (when it was called the Basketball Association of America) when he played for the New York Knicks in the 1947-48 season.

Hachimura said he didn’t talk too much in the brief meeting with Misaka. He listened.

“Honestly, actually in Japan we don’t talk about him that much. I think people should know more about him,” said Hachimura, who added that he didn’t know much about Misaka previously.

Hachimura, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound junior, has emerged as the Bulldogs’ most visible NBA Draft prospect in a season where he’s averaging north of 20 points per game with a field goal percentage hovering around 60.

All season long, a several-person contingent of reporters from Japanese media outlets have been at pretty much every Gonzaga basketball game. For the Bulldogs’ last few home games, that number multiplied.

After the win Saturday, Hachimura first spoke to a group of reporters in the locker room in English, then switched to Japanese when approached by a five-person group from Japanese outlets, then back to English when another group approached.

SEATS MOSTLY FULL

Attendance at the three sessions of basketball at Vivint Smart Home Arena was very good. The two announced crowds Thursday were 16,576 and 16,807, which trailed only Columbus, Ohio, in terms of regional attendance on Thursday.

Saturday, the announced attendance was 17,792. It’s unknown if that was the paid attendance or the turnstile count. If it was the former, it probably wasn’t that far off from the “people-in-seats” numbers. There were hardly any empty seats.

This happened despite an expensive resale ticket market and the closest team to Salt Lake City being 721 miles away (Gonzaga) and the average 1,548-mile travel distance of the eight teams (GU, Kansas, Auburn, Syracuse, Baylor, New Mexico State, Farleigh Dickinson, Northeastern).

There seemed to be a decent number of local interest judging by the amount of Utah, BYU and Jazz jerseys in the crowds, along with the odd school represented here and there (a man sitting near one of the baskets was wearing a Valparaiso sweatshirt).

Vivint Smart Home Arena last hosted NCAA Tournament games in 2017 but it’s unknown when they will return. Announced sites go through 2022 and SLC is not on that list.

JA MORANT EFFECT HITS SLC

Saturday was likely the last day the world will see Ja Morant in a Murray State basketball uniform.

To be clear, Morant’s team wasn’t playing in the Salt Lake regional, but that didn’t mean the probably-NBA-bound guard was any less captivating.

Before Gonzaga ran onto the floor, several players were gathered in the tunnel watching Murray State play Florida State on a small television anchored near the ceiling.

There was a play in that game where Morant drove to the basket, stopped and then a whistle blew away from the ball. But Morant was already in the process of throwing the ball off the backboard to himself to catch it for a dunk until he stopped in midair and didn’t throw down.

There was still an audible gasp of amazement from the Gonzaga group.

EYES AND EARS

The Weber State ROTC Color Guard again displayed the colors during the National Anthem preceding tipoff of the Gonzaga-Baylor game. The four-person contingent did the same Thursday before the Auburn-New Mexico State game and had about two days notice for that. For Saturday’s display? They mostly found out around 24 hours prior. At this point, they’re about to become regulars.

The biggest roar from the crowd in the Gonzaga-Baylor game probably was when Geno Crandall tried to send an alley-oop lob to Brandon Clarke and instead swished it for a 3-pointer in the first half. It was a delayed roar, but loud nonetheless.

Speaking of Clarke, he detonated for 36 points on 15-of-18 shooting, eight rebounds and five blocks with a few massive slam dunks against Auburn. Asked what he had for breakfast, he replied: “Pretty much the same thing I have on every road trip. I had cheese, eggs, bacon, pancakes and some fruit.”

Then he was asked about the dunks. “He’s a two-time dunk champion,” Corey Kispert said. “Over you?” asked coach Mark Few. “Yes, over me,” Kispert replied.

Baylor coach Scott Drew was asked if Clarke surprised the Bears. “There’s a reason he’s on the draft board. That’s what makes Gonzaga really good. It’s like plugging holes in a dam. You can plug three, but that fourth one gets you,” Drew said.

You can reach prep sports reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @patrickcarr_ and on Facebook at facebook.com/patrickcarr17/.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!