Heart over height: Senior finishes Chapman basketball career

Senior Reed Nakakihara joined the Chapman basketball team as a sophomore. He is the only rostered player under 6 feet tall, but has a 9.8 point average per game. Photo by Mia Fortunato

If you click on the “roster” tab of the men’s basketball section on the Chapman Athletics website and scroll down the list of names, you’ll notice something: every player is over six feet tall.

Except for one.

“Basketball’s a big man’s sport. That’s just how it is,” said 5-foot-9-inch senior point guard Reed Nakakihara.

Nakakihara has worked intently to find his spot in that “big man’s sport” since he was 4 years old. That journey has taken him through his career at Foothill High School in Tustin, where Nakakihara’s former team won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division I championship in 2015. Nakakihara then played a freshman season at Colorado College before transferring to Chapman his sophomore year, thinking the school would be a better fit for him academically, he said.

Nakakihara has started each of the 76 games he’s played for the Panthers, making 189 three-pointers, with a 9.8 point average per game.

“I’m probably not the strongest or the quickest, so I try to be smarter than most, whether that be watching more film or figuring out other player’s tendencies. (I figure) out ways where I can succeed on the court,” Nakakihara said.

As the basketball season ended Feb. 19 with a 62-45 loss against Claremont Mudd-Scripps, Nakakihara’s career of outsmarting opponents came to a close. The next day, he said the end of his career didn’t fully sink in, except for the emotions in the lead-up to the game.

“(I was reflective) in warm-ups, a little bit before the game … (knowing it was) the last time doing all this,” Nakakihara said.

Nakakihara wasn’t always a confident player. As a sophomore, despite being a starter, he said he was tentative to be vocal on court. In his junior year as captain of the team, his leadership role grew, and by the time he returned to the position as a senior, he said that leadership had become his job.

“In the beginning, I was a little bit unsure if I had the authority or the right to say anything,” Nakakihara said. “But my coaches always had the belief in me to do that from day one; it was just a matter of me feeling like I was ready.”

Mike Bokosky, men’s basketball head coach, said he doesn’t think Nakakihara’s size made much of a difference.

“Reed didn’t have a liability because of his size. He had a heart the size of a football,” Bokosky said. “I’m going to miss coaching him.”

Bokosky’s last chance to coach Nakakihara during a home game came on Senior Day Feb. 16. Nakakihara said, for him and the other four seniors on the team, it was his last opportunity to play among who he considers family and friends.

“It was a bittersweet moment. (It hasn’t) really set in that it’s your last home game ever,” Nakakihara said.

The day before his game against Claremont, he used the same word “bittersweet,” to describe his feelings about the moment.

“I’m trying to look at it as trying to enjoy the night and think about where it all started when I was 4 years old playing, and to get here,” Nakakihara said. “I wasn’t even supposed to make it this far.”