A Cinderella Story

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Jimmy Miyasaka recounts Cal Poly Pomona’s magical run to the NCAADiv. II Championship Game.

Photos by MARIOG. REYES/Rafu Shimpo

The Cal Poly Pomona Men’s Basketball team holds up their Regional Championship trophy celebrating their incredible run to the NCAA Div. II Championships during a Pep Rally at the Cal Poly campus Thursday.

The Cal Poly Pomona Men’s Basketball team holds up their Regional Championship trophy celebrating their incredible run to the NCAA Div. II Championships during a Pep Rally at the Cal Poly campus Thursday.

 

 

By Jordan Ikeda
Rafu Staff Writer

They were never supposed to win. In fact, they started off the year with a blowout loss and sputtered to a 5-5 league record that had them tied for seventh in their own conference.

But the Cal Poly Pomona Men’s basketball team kept working hard, kept trusting in their coach and each other, and went on an amazing run that just so happened to end on a buzzer beating three pointer in the NCAADivision II Championship game.

In many regards, the mindset as well as the unlikely nature of what the Broncos were able to accomplish mirrors the mentality and accomplishments of senior guard Jimmy Miyasaka.

Born and raised in a little town called Kaimuki in Honolulu, Hawaii, Miyasaka’s love affair with bas­ketball began when his father, Richard, put a ball in his hand and told him that hoops was the sport he was going to play.
 

Courtesy Cal Poly Pomona. Miyasaka takes a shot in a game this season against Chico State.

Courtesy Cal Poly Pomona. Miyasaka takes a shot in a game this season against Chico State.“From there, I just fell in love with the game,” Miyasaka told The Rafu Shimpo before the team’s pep rally on Thursday afternoon at the Cal Polly campus that saw over 500 students and fans in atten­dance. “My dad was my high school coach as well. He gave me the confidence and helped me practice.”

His hero, like most 80’s babies, was Michael Jordan, but growing to be 6’2 (extremely tall by Japanese and Hawaiian standards), he played what he called a power guard. So, in addition to Jordan, he practiced Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake and studied the cool and highly efficient game of Tim Duncan.

Miyasaka’s hard work paid off in both the classroom and on the court.

He was his high school’s valedictorian, an all-state player and the scholar athlete of the year. He got looks at D-II schools in Hawaii, but his main goal was always to be an optometrist—to follow in his mother, Anne’s footsteps.

Cal Poly Pomona, whom he had witness win the West Regional Championship in Hawaii his junior year, just so happens to also have a great biology department.

“I came out here, tried to play on the team, but these guys are good,” said the Yonsei. “It was tough when I first came out here. I didn’t get a scholarship, came on as a walk on and actually got cut my first year. I wasn’t recruited or anything.”

Undeterred, Miyasaka entreated and soon endeared himself to head coach Greg Kamansky until he was given the manager job on the team.

He kept working hard and the following season, made the squad.

“What we could always count on with Jimmy was consistency,” said assistant coach Wild Bill Bannon. “Bringing his effort every single day, whether it was on the court, in the classroom, in the weightroom, on the track.”

But actions speak louder than words. Miyasaka finished the premed biology program in three years, taking 22-unit semesters. Currently in his fifth year, he is finishing up his master’s degree and looking to attend the optometry school at Western University of Health and Sciences and Sciences this fall.

And to think, he wasn’t even going to come back this season. He credits his decision to return to his girlfriend, Brit Sumida, who encouraged him to play just one more season.

“She has a national championship ring here at Cal Poly,” said Miyasaka.

“I look up to her. She’s a Japanese point guard. She’s my role model and I’m her number one fan.”

After the team’s horrible start, they finished the year winning 16 of 18 and headed out to Hawaii to compete in the West Region Championships, the very game that had motivated him to come to Cal Poly.

“The newspapers and local channels were like, ‘The local boy has come back,’ said Miyasaka. “And you know, that’s great. I wasn’t expecting anything. They really showed aloha and love for me.”

miyasaka3Facing BYU Hawaii, the third ranked team in the nation on a 25-game winning streak, and playing in front of 40 of his friends and family, the Broncos erased a 14-point deficit in the last six minutes to come back and win.

As West Region Champions, Cal Poly was invited to the Elite Eight.

The unranked Broncos made school history by beating twelfth ranked Southwest Minnesota and becoming the first Cal Poly Men’s team to advance past the Elite Eight.

The next night they played against Augusta State, the returning runners up ranked 4th in the country. The Broncos won again. .

Having played in three times zones, from Honolulu to Springfield, the self-proclaimed “Road Warriors” faced an undefeated (35-0) University of Findlay team, ranked number one in the country.

After trailing 36-22 with just over 16 minutes remaining in the second half, the Broncos didn’t give up, kept working hard, kept trusting in their coach and each other, and came all the way back to force overtime.

In a game this hard fought, this closely contested, where every possession counts, sometimes all it takes a bit of luck. Findlay’s Tyler Evans, who hadn’t made a basket the whole game, hit a fadeaway three-point shot at the buzzer.

“The emotions just hit at that moment. That’s what your goal is to win a national championship,” Miyasaka said. “At least we made it to the last game I could possibly play in my college career.”

“It was disappointing,” he continued, “but I heard so many people say that they were so proud to see Cal Poly Pomona on television. We put Cal Poly on the map.”

The story is a classic. Cinderella got to go to the Prince’s ball due to her hard work and never-give-up hope spirit. There, she quickly became the focus of the entire kingdom and got one absolutely magical dance with the prince. But at the end of the night, she had to go back home.

Miyasaka might not have gotten his ring and might not have taken the metaphorical prince home, but the up-and-coming optometrist might be swapping a different kind of ring in the near future, and taking home a princess instead.

“I’d love to get married,” he said with a huge smile, “To Brit Sumida. So, that’s a little hint for her. I love her. Put that in the paper.”

Miyasaka is keen on proving that dreams do come true.

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