Natalie Nakase

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Natalie Nakase
Los Angeles Clippers
Position Assistant video coordinator
League NBA
Personal information
Born (1980-04-18) April 18, 1980 (age 37)
Anaheim, California
Nationality American
Listed height 5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)
Career information
High school Marina (Huntington Beach, California)
College UCLA (1998–2003)
Playing career 2005–2008
Position Point guard
Coaching career 2008–present
Career history
As player:
2005 San Jose Spiders
2006 San Diego Siege
2007–2008 Herner
As coach:
2008–2010 Wolfenbüttel Wildcats
2010–2011 Tokyo Apache (assistant)
2011–2012 Saitama Broncos

Natalie Mitsue Nakase (born April 18, 1980)[1] is an American professional basketball coach who currently serves as an assistant video coordinator with the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). After retiring as a professional player, she has been a head coach for both men's and women's professional teams.

Nakase grew up in Orange County, California, where she was honored as the county's high school player of the year. She played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, receiving honorable mention as an all-conference player in the Pacific-10 Conference. A third-generation Japanese-American, she became the first Asian American to play in the National Women's Basketball League (NWBL). She also played in Germany before suffering a knee injury and retiring as a player. Nakase went into coaching, and served as a head coach of a women's team in Germany before becoming the first female head coach in Japan's top pro men's league. She returned to the United States in pursuit of a coaching career in the NBA, joining the Clippers in 2012.

Early life[edit]

Nakase was born in Anaheim, California, the youngest of three daughters to Gary and Debra Nakase.[1][2] Her parents are both second-generation Japanese-Americans.[2]

Nakase grew up in Huntington Beach, California, where she attended Marina High School and was a four-year lettererman playing basketball.[1][2] She led the school to two Sunset League titles. In 1998, the team won their first California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section title.[1][3] Nakase averaged 13.9 points and 8.6 assists that season, when she was named the 1998 Orange County Player of the Year by both the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register.[1][3] She finished her career as the Sunset League leader in career assists, and set school records for career assists, steals and three-point field goals made.[1]

College career[edit]

Standing at 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 m), Nakase was not heavily recruited by college basketball programs. She turned down a full scholarship from the University of California, Irvine to attend her dream school, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),[4] where she was a walk-on for the UCLA Bruins basketball team.[2] Nakase redshirted as a freshman after injuring her left knee in an August summer league game, which required reconstructive surgery to repair her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).[1][5] She recovered to become a three-year starter at point guard for UCLA, averaging 4.9 points and 3.7 assists per game in her career.[5][6] In 2002, she earned honorable mention as an all-conference player in the Pacific-10 after averaging a career-high 7.9 points and 5.1 assists per game.[6]

Professional career[edit]

Nakase played in the NWBL for two seasons, playing with the San Jose Spiders in 2005 and the San Diego Siege in 2006.[6][7] She was the league's first Asian-American player.[4] In 2007, she tried out with the Phoenix Mercury of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), but was waived.[8] She coached an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team,[2] and went to Germany to play one season with Herner in 2007–08, when she again tore knee ligaments.[2][7][9][10]

Opting to retire as a player rather than undergoing surgery again,[7][11] Nakase coached for the Wolfenbüttel Wildcats in the Damen-Basketball-Bundesliga for the 2008–09 and 2009–10 seasons.[7] She next went to Japan in hopes of playing, but learned that the Japanese women's league doesn't allow foreign players.[2] A friend of Nakase's, Darin Maki, was playing with the Tokyo Apache, and arranged with his coach, former NBA coach Bob Hill, to allow Nakase to observe practice before the 2010–11 season began.[2][7][9] She then prepared a scouting report for the team's next opponent, which led to a volunteer assistant coaching position under Hill.[2][9] After the Apache folded at the end of the season, Saitama Broncos head coach Dean Murray hired Nakase as an assistant at the urging of Hill.[4][9] She took over the struggling team midseason after Murray stepped down, and became the first female head coach in the bj league, Japan's top professional men's league.[8][2][7][12] However, her father persuaded her to not return to Japan in order to pursue her dream of becoming a coach in the NBA.[9][2]

In September 2012, she began a yearlong internship in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, working under the team's video coordinator.[2] She became the team's assistant video coordinator.[9] She was one of 15 women of Asian or Pacific Island heritage honored at the White House in 2013 as their Champions of Change.[13][14] During the two-week 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nakase was an assistant coach for the Clippers, becoming the first woman to sit on the bench as an NBA assistant.[a][5][9][17]


  1. ^ Lisa Boyer was an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001–02, but she neither sat on the bench nor traveled for away games, and she was paid by the Cleveland Rockers of the WNBA and not by the Cavaliers. Becky Hammon was hired by the San Antonio Spurs for the 2014–15 season, becoming the first woman to either be paid or work full-time as an NBA assistant.[15][16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Player Bio:Natalie Nakase". Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Fagan, Kate (October 17, 2012). "Dream Role". Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b McLeod, Paul; Henderson, Martin (April 23, 1998). "Williams, Nakase Highlight Field". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Hernandez, Dylan (February 17, 2012). "Natalie Nakase continues to dream big, beat odds". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Patten, Eric (July 18, 2014). "Clippers' Nakase Breaking Barriers". Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c "Former Bruin Natalie Nakase Signs With Phoenix Mercury Of WNBA". April 19, 2007. Retrieved July 21, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Odeven, Ed (February 26, 2012). "Nakase says goal is to coach in NBA". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on July 22, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "She's 1st female coach in Japanese men's league". Newsday. February 21, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Witz, Billy (July 21, 2014). "Aiming at Glass Ceiling, but Not With Her Jump Shot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 21, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Natalie Nakase basketball profile". Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  11. ^ Bolch, Ben (February 7, 2015). "Natalie Nakase seeks to climb from Clippers' video room to NBA coach". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 20, 2015. 
  12. ^ Odeven, Ed (July 10, 2014). "Kyoto brings back All-Star forward Warren". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on July 24, 2014. 
  13. ^ "U.S. honors three Japanese-American women". The Japan Times. May 7, 2013. Archived from the original on July 22, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Natalie Nakase". Archived from the original on July 22, 2014. 
  15. ^ Zillgitt, Jeff (August 5, 2014). "Spurs hire Becky Hammon as assistant coach". USA Today. Archived from the original on August 6, 2014. 
  16. ^ Schwartz, Nick (August 5, 2014). "Spurs make history by hiring female assistant coach". USA Today. Archived from the original on August 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ Dwyer, Kelly. "Natalie Nakase ends her first Summer League as an assistant coach, makes a little history along the way | Ball Don't Lie - Yahoo Sports". Retrieved July 23, 2014. 

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