Natalie Nakase is an American professional basketball coach who currently serves as an assistant video coordinator with the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association.
Before Becky Hammon took US professional sports by storm in 2014 by becoming the NBA’s first female assistant coach at San Antonio Spurs (followed by Nancy Lieberman who became the Assistant Coach at Sacramento Kings in 2015), there was one female coach who was already working hard in the background of an NBA team and blazing a trail for the aforementioned women. In 2012, Natalie Nakase took on an intern role in the video analysis department at the LA Clippers, moving back to the US from Japan where she became the?first female Head Coach for a Japanese men’s professional basketball team in 2011.
Now, Natalie has also added player development to her role and keeps her eye on her ultimate goal of becoming the first female Head Coach in the NBA.
A big thank you to Aubrey Freckman for this interview as she caught up with Natalie to ask her a few questions about her career…
Can you tell us a little about what is involved as your role with the Clippers and as an Assistant Video Coordinator – what does your day to day look like?
As an assistant video coordinator, we’re usually in between 5:30-6:00am, because mostly what we’re working on is opponent games. So for example, say we’re playing Boston in a couple of days, I’ll do their five games previously played and I’ll cut those games up and just prepare them for the coaches. That’s constant 82 games times 5, that’s how many games we’re cutting up. When practice comes around, usually around 11:00am, I’m down on the court with the players, usually about an hour before. Most of my job consists of the video part and recently I’ve been given the opportunity to help with player development, so I?ll work with a couple of players before practice. After practice, it’s more video edits and additional footage to help the coaches prepare for the upcoming games. Once the games come on at night between 4:00pm and 10:00pm, we’re logging them. So an average day usually starts around 5:30am and ends at 10:00pm.
Expand a bit on the player development role…
My current player development responsibility is Luc [Mbah a Moute]. We’ve developed a pretty good relationship based off of his work ethic, he’s a guy that wants to go every day. Because of that and because we’re here every day, we’ve built a good, trusting relationship. Whether it’s shooting or ball handling or just a mixture of finishes, he likes to mix it up. Other players that come in, Ray [Raymond Felton], double-A [Alan Anderson], pretty much all of our guys come in every day or every other day, we’re here working with them.
What did your path in becoming the Assistant Video Coordinator look like?how did you get involved with the Clippers?
I was coaching overseas where I was an assistant for a former NBA head coach, Bob Hill. And just by the way he coached, I was instantly interested in his ways and what he brought to the table in terms of his knowledge. So as soon as I realized that this was what the NBA was like, I knew my next goal would be to coach in the NBA. So I moved back to the states, had no job and I was just constantly emailing, trying to make connections to the NBA. Nothing was biting I went to Summer League and volunteered with the Spurs which was a great opportunity for me. After that, I still didn?t have a job. One day, I showed up for a youth clinic with the Clippers and Dave Severns was leading the clinic and he noticed that could handle the ball, so I ended up being the demonstrator [for each drill]. From there, I just kept asking Dave questions and finally I asked if I could come in the next day and just watch Blake [Griffin] and Chris [Paul] work out, because Dave was just talking about how hard they work. So that was my way into the gym and I just kept coming by each day for two weeks straight, just taking notes and observing the drills and eventually I asked to be a video intern.
What do you think it will take for you to raise up the coaching ranks and to become an Assistant or Head Coach of the Team?
I really think it just has to do with timing, I hate to say timing, but sometimes it does. The timing of positions changing, the timing of opportunity and just being prepared. I did give myself a timeline of how many years it would take, but then you start to frustrated when you put time limits on yourself. I was lucky enough to have mentors that told me you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing and that it’s going to take time but they [mentors] told me just to be prepared. The best part about that and working in the video department is that you can start to create your own philosophy, your own playbook, your own defensive playbook. And that’s what’s helped me be prepared for that opportunity. In terms of what it will take, I think it’s exactly what I have been doing and just not getting discouraged through the process. So just keep doing film, keep making good relationships and keep being there for the players. I think that’s the main thing, if the players trust you you’re good.
What advice would you give to other female coaches who want to realize their dream of coaching in pro leagues? What have you learned along the way that you could pass on to others?
Prove your passion for the sport, whether it’s men or women. If you show that you can help in any way, they’ll hire you. As long as you contribute in any way to help them win, they’ll hire you. And you obviously have to show that you’re there for the basketball part. I think for me, the main thing was showing that my true passion is basketball and [showing that I can] help them win and move in the right direction. So advice: don’t be afraid, go after it. Go straight to the goal.
Mind Gym : An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack
Just Do It
Best Advice You’ve Ever Received:
Always do the right thing.