‘Hapa Hoops’ at JANM This Saturday

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Rex Walters as a player with the Miami Heat and as a coach for the University of San Francisco.

The Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street) in Little Tokyo, will present “Hapa Hoops” on Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m.

The documentary “Crossover” will be screened, followed by a conversation with Hapa NBA veteran Rex Walters. The program is free with admission to the museum.

Produced originally for the “More Than a Game” exhibition (2000) by the museum’s Watase Media Arts Center, and directed by Justin Lin (now best known for the “Fast and Furious” franchise), “Crossover” is a fast-paced look at the history and purpose of Japanese American basketball leagues over the years. First established in the 1930s as an opportunity for Japanese Americans to participate in competitive sports, the leagues have flourished over the years — bringing about questions of how to adapt to an increasingly diverse player base.

The documentary explores the many sides of the so-called ethnicity rules and the geographically dispersed and ethnically diffused Japanese American communities in addition to the “family, friends and fun” that the leagues have bolstered through the decades. With guest appearances by legendary coach John Wooden and Walters, who began his basketball career in the JA leagues.

The San Jose Zebra Youth Foundation noted on its website that the Zebra team on which Walters played, coached by Terry Maruyama, was named the best Japanese American basketball team of all time in a Nichi Bei Times salute to Nikkei athletes. Other Zebras and Zebraettes who have gone on to star on prep basketball teams include Lee Anne Sera (USC), Shelby Taketa (Cal Poly), Lisa Imahara (San Jose State) and Lori Kozuki (UC Davis).

Walters has been head basketball coach for the University of San Francisco Dons since 2008. He previously coached the Owls at Florida Atlantic and the Hornets at Valparaiso. His coaching career began in 2002-03 in Overland Park, Kan., where he served as assistant coach for the Blue Valley Northwest High School team.

A prep star at Piedmont Hills High School and a 1988 graduate of Independence High School, both in San Jose, Walters began his college career at Northwestern. He transferred to Kansas and played his final two college seasons under Roy Williams. Walters averaged 15.6 points per game with the Jayhawks, helping the team reach the Final Four in 1993.

After graduating from Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in education, Walters was selected 16th overall by New Jersey in the 1993 NBA draft and played seven seasons for the Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat, averaging 4.6 points and 1.7 assists per game in 13.7 minutes.

Walters averaged a career-best 6.8 points per game for Philadelphia in 1996-97, and made 67 career starts in 335 games. His career assist-to-turnover ratio was nearly 2-to-1. He was New Jersey’s top three-point shooter in 1994-95 (36.2%) and Philadelphia’s top long-range marksman in 1996-97 (38.5%). A fierce competitor, he averaged 12.8 points and 7.3 assists per game in eight starts for the 76ers to end the 1995-96 season.

His professional career spanned nine season in total ending in 2002 after playing internationally for two years and winning an American Basketball Association title with the Kansas City Knights.

Walters and his wife, Deanna, reside in San Francisco and have five children.

This program is presented in conjunction with “Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History,” running through Aug. 25. The exhibition explores the diverse experiences and history of mixed-roots and mixed-race Japanese Americans through photos, historical artifacts, and interactive elements.

For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.

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3 Comments

  1. There was an excellent interview with Rex (by SF reporter Rick Quon) where he described his start in basketball with the San Jose CYS and San Jose Zebras teams, two organizations that have roots within the San Jose Japantown community.

    I even remember going to a CYS tournament back in the 80s and seeing him dunk (as an 8th grader!) over some poor “C” league teams. He was truly a giant in Nikkei league action who never forgot his roots. I read somewhere that even as of a few years ago, he still laces it up and plays occasionally with the San Jose Kidz (old Ninja/Zebras) players at various tournaments. His kids now play for the SF Eagles, an Asian American team that plays in NorCal Nikkei tournaments.

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