|Role:||Assistant video coordinator with the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA).|
Natalie Mitsue Nakase (born April 18, 1980) 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. She 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.
Nakase was born in Anaheim, California, the youngest of three daughters to Gary and Debra Nakase. Her parents are both second-generation Japanese-Americans.
Nakase grew up in Huntington Beach, California, where she attended Marina High School and was a four-year letterermanplaying basketball. She led the school to two Sunset League titles. In 1998, the team won their first California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section title. 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. 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.
Standing at just 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), where she was a walk-on for the UCLA Bruins basketball team. She redshirted as a freshmen after injuring her left knee in an August summer league game, which required reconstructive surgery to repair her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). 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. 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.
Nakase played in the NWBL for two seasons, playing with the San Jose Spiders in 2005 and the San Diego Siege in 2006. She was the league’s first Asian-American player. In 2007, she tried out with the Phoenix Mercury of the Women’s National Basketball Association, but was waived. She coached an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, and went to Germany to play one season with Herner in 2007–08, when she again tore knee ligaments.
Opting to retire as a player, Nakase coached for the Wolfenbüttel Wildcats in the Damen-Basketball-Bundesliga for the 2008–09 and 2009–10 seasons. She next went to Japan in hopes of playing, but learned that the Japanese women’s league doesn’t allow foreign players. 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. She then prepared a scouting report for the team’s next opponent, which led to a volunteer assistant coaching position under Hill. After the Apache folded at the end of the season, Hill urged Saitama Broncos head coach Dean Murray to hire Nakase as an assistant. She took over the struggling team midseason after Murray stepped down, and became the first female head coach in Japan’s top professional men’s league. However, her father persuaded her to not return to Japan in order to pursue her dream of becoming the first female coach in the NBA.
In September 2012, she began a yearlong internship in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, working under the team’s video coordinator. She became the team’s assistant video coordinator. She was one of 15 women of Asian or Pacific Island heritage honored at the White House in 2013 as their Champions of Change. During the two-week 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nakase was an assistant coach for the Clippers, becoming the first female to sit on the bench as an NBA assistant.