GARDENA — Three Japanese American basketball players who competed at the professional level will provide insight into what it took for them to advance their careers beyond the JA community leagues at a free panel discussion organized by the Nikkei Basketball Heritage Association (NBHA) for Sunday, Aug. 18, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute (JCI), 1964 W. 162nd St., Gardena.
The program, “How to Achieve Success in Basketball: A JA Community Panel,” will feature Jamie Hagiya, Mark Nitake and Natalie Nakase, who all began playing organized basketball in the Japanese American youth leagues. The panel was put together by former UCLA Bruin player Allison Taka, who felt that many families were uncertain on the best path for their children’s development in basketball.
She also recalled Nakase stating in an interview that she was more than willing to share her experiences and perspectives, but is never asked.
“The panel will give a blueprint of what they (parents and kids) should be doing and insight as to what it takes to be successful,” Taka explained. But she also expressed the hope that the panel will help parents and their kids to better understand the history and the value of the Japanese American community basketball programs, a sentiment shared by the panelists.
Hagiya, who grew up in Torrance, started at the age of 4, playing in the Double Dribble Leagues before joining the FOR (Friends of Richard) Rainbows.
Nitake similarly began playing when he was 5 with an FOR team.
Nakase lived in Orange County, where she became a member of a VFW team when she was 6.
Hagiya belonged to a couple of youth teams before entering into AAU competition in the sixth grade. She was a standout player at South Torrance High School and earned a scholarship to USC. She was a two-time captain for the Women of Troy and ended up second all-time in three-point field goals and fourth in assists. After graduating, she competed professionally in Greece and Spain.
Nitake played varsity basketball in high school and joined club teams after graduating. Attending UCLA, he was a practice player for the women’s varsity team. He tried out for professional teams in Taiwan before joining the Southern California Fukienese Association team, which competes in the Southeast Asian Professional League in Hong Kong.
Nakase was a star player at Marina High School. She walked on the UCLA women’s varsity basketball team and became a three-time cap¬tain and starting point guard. After college, she played in the National Women’s Basketball Leauge (the first Asian American to play) and then overseas in Germany.
All three have remained connected to athletics. Nitake is a doctor in physical therapy and currently serves in the Orthopedic Residency Program at Kaiser Permanente in Harbor City. He was a trainer at the Sichuan Sport Skills Academy in China in 2014.
Hagiya is co-owner and coach at the Torrance Training Lab and has a second sports career as a CrossFit competitor. She also runs youth basketball camps and clinics.
Nakase has the highest-profile position of the three as a Los Angeles Clippers player development assistant coach. She became the first woman to earn an assistant coach position with the Clippers’ summer league and G-league teams. Previously, she became the first female head coach in Japan’s top men’s professional league with the Saitama Broncos.
Taka is also part of the NBHA, which was organized by leaders of several JA community basketball organizations to address rising issues concerning behavior, coaching and a lack of awareness of the community’s history. She and other physical education instructors have been developing an age-appropriate coaching curriculum to aid parents and volunteers when they suddenly find themselves with the responsibility of coaching young children.
NBHA also is focused on problems stemming from over-competitiveness.
“Japanese Americans have been playing organized basketball since the 1920s,” explained Jerry Nakafuji, NBHA president. “They even played while in camp during the war. While the teams and the players always strived to be as good they could be, the underlying purpose for the leagues was always more than just basketball. Community leaders intended that young Nisei and Sansei participate in activities where they could play and compete with each other. It created camaraderie while passing traditional cultural values to each new generation.”
Chris Komai, former sports editor for The Rafu Shimpo and current board member of the Nisei Athletic Union, will provide a quick overview of the leagues and moderate the panel.
The program is free and open to all who are interested in Japanese American basketball. To RSVP, go to www.jabasketball.org and for more information on NBHA, contact Nakafuji at (562) 577-1216.