While the more famous World Cup has been going on in Russia, qualifying rounds for basketball’s 2019 version of the event are underway. This included Japan’s historic 79-78 win over international power Australia on Friday in Chiba, Japan.
It’s notable for our purposes since Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura scored 24 points in the win, which was Japan’s first in group play. Hachimura is used to advancing in tournaments, and Japan will now need to beat Chinese Taipei on Monday to move on.
But focusing on Hachimura — whose journey from Japan to Spokane has been well documented — buries the lede.
There was another familiar mid-major face helping Japan to the upset.
Before Eric Musselman was devouring impact transfers or Deonte Burton was dunking on everyone, it was Nick Fazekas that helped put the Wolf Pack on the map. Fazekas was the star of the Trent Johnson/Mark Fox glory days in Reno, winning three straight WAC Player of the Year awards while helping the Wolf Pack to four NCAA Tournament appearances and a Sweet 16.
He was the headliner on teams that also featured Ramon Sessions and JaVale McGee. The Colorado native is now co-headlining the Japanese national team, scoring 25 points and pulling down 12 rebounds against Thon Maker and the Australia frontcourt.
Fazekas became a naturalized Japanese citizen earlier this year, after playing in Japan’s national basketball league since 2012.
In a team-issued statement, Fazekas said that he has decided to become a naturalized Japanese citizen because he has become a fan of the warm and gentle personality of the country’s people and wanted to play in Kawasaki as long as he could.
Fazekas was taken early in the second round of the 2007 NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, and after bouncing around the Mavericks and Clippers’ organizations, he played in Europe, the Philippines and the then-D-League before finding a home with the Toshiba Kawasaki Brave Thunders. He’s a former league MVP, and has finished in the league’s “Best Five” the best two seasons.
Here’s some footage of Fazekas showing off that efficient offensive game that let him average 18.8 points per game and amass 16.7 offensive wins shares over his four-year college career.
Kudos to Fazekas for finding a basketball home, and for mid-major stars of years past popping up in unexpected places.