TOKYO (AP) — As the only female coach in Japan’s professional basketball league, knows there is more to her job than winning games.
Last November, Nakase became the first female head coach in the history of Japan’s professional men’s basketball league when she was hired by the Saitama Broncos after the team’s previous coach — American Dean Murray — was fired for a violation of his contract.
Nakase’s appointment was considered something of a breakthrough in conservative Japan, and the 31-year-old Los Angeles native says she is happy to give women some encouragement.
“I get a lot of attention for being the first woman in coaching,” Nakase said at a news conference. “I’m starting to realize the responsibility I have of giving women a chance not only in basketball but in the corporate world as well.”
And Nakase’s ambitions go far beyond Japan.
“I’d like to coach in the NBA,” Nakase said Monday. “Not necessarily as a head coach but as part of a coaching team. I think everyone wants to reach the highest level of their sport and, for me, that would be the NBA.”
Nakase, a third generation Japanese-American, had experience as a head coach of a women’s team in Germany. Last season, she was an assistant under former NBA coach Bob Hill for the Tokyo Apache. She said Hill’s influence continues to guide her.
“I would say we talk once or twice a week,” Nakase said of Hill, who is now coaching in China. “He taught me so much. I learned about work ethic, the commitment to detail and the importance of communicating with every player on your team.”
Hill said he expects Nakase to continue to progress as a coach.
“I would never bet against her,” Hill told The Associated Press via email. “Her strength is her desire to coach men and win. I believe she will continue to learn and become an outstanding coach. I think this season has taught her many many valuable lessons.”
Taking over from another coach has been a big challenge for Nakase, who knew right away that changes were needed.
One of her toughest moves so far was taking former NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield out of the starting lineup.
“I knew right away the team needed a strict leader,” Nakase said. “I could see there were going to be some feelings hurt but that’s a coach’s job.”
The Broncos have a 9-23 record and are next-to-last in the 10-team Eastern Conference. The top six teams make the playoffs.
Nakase said a tough 94-84 overtime loss to three-time champion Osaka on Sunday gave her players encouragement as they drive for a playoff spot.
“The game showed our competitiveness,” Nakase said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs. That may be a long shot at this point but I just tell my players to just stay focused on the next game.”
In her playing career, the 159-centimeter (5-foot-2) Nakase was an all-conference point guard at University of California, Los Angeles from 1999-2003 and was the first Asian American player in the National Women’s Basketball League, where she spent four seasons.
As she works toward a possible career in the NBA, Nakase gets encouragement from New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.
“For Asian basketball, what he is doing is a huge accomplishment,” Nakase said. “It’s a huge inspiration for me. Not only is he playing in the NBA but he is excelling.”
As for coaching men, Nakase says doing that is no bigger a challenge than coaching women.
“I had women in Germany who caused problems,” Nakase said. “I don’t really see a lot of difference between coaching men and women other than the men can be more outspoken which can be a good thing.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.