By John Sammon
It’s an incongruous sight, five-foot-four-inch Kyle Nishimoto on a basketball court craning his neck all the way back, looking up, to advise a player towering over him who is seven feet tall.
But his teammates value his opinions. Nishimoto has made a science of the game.
“It’s not really like a job what I do because I love basketball it’s my passion,” Nishimoto said. “I feel very fortunate to be in this game.”
Nishimoto is one of the very few Japanese Americans to have coaching duties in professional basketball, and he got where he is by determination and by taking a wild gamble.
“My parents at first thought it was crazy, but it worked out,” Nishimoto said.
Born in Mountain View, the 24-year-old Nishimoto had one set of grandparents who lived in Auburn and Watsonville, and another set from Hawaii.
His father Dave Nishimoto is an assistant manager at Mollie Stone’s Market in Palo Alto and his mother Margie an account executive with Exotic Silks of Mountain View, a wholesaler of silk fabrics from Thailand, China, Korea and India.
Nishimoto said he always loved basketball from an early age and played the game as a boy along with baseball and volleyball.
“Back then I never viewed it as a career,” he said. “I knew I had no shot at the NBA (National Basketball Association) as a player.”
He played youth basketball in the recreation Tri-City Youth Group and for the Foster City Flyers, a youth basketball organization for middle and high school students.
His dream of being in the game persisted.
After attending Homestead High School (Cupertino) he enrolled at San Jose State University taking business courses.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Nishimoto said. “I decided to go to De Anza College because I could get my general education classes out of the way at less expense.”
A chance meeting with Jeff Addiego, senior director of youth basketball for the Golden State Warriors professional basketball team led to a friendship.
“This was a youth program run by the Golden State Warriors to teach young people aged 8 to 14 how to play basketball,” Nishimoto said. “I had been in a Warriors Camp when I was 9 years old held at West Valley College (Saratoga).”
Nishimoto asked Addiego if the Warriors needed any additional coaches to teach children in the camps. In June of 2013 he became a youth basketball coach for 12 to 20 youngsters teaching them the fundamentals of basketball at a Golden State Warrior training facility. It’s a job he still does every summer.
Addiego recommended Nishimoto try for a career in sports management. He took the advice transferring to the University of Oklahoma which offered such classes. The curriculum included subjects like how to deal with players and how to run an athletic program.
Nishimoto’s hard work at college paid off. He was offered an internship with the Oklahoma City Thunder, an NBA team in the same league with the Golden State Warriors, put in charge of entertaining audience members during half-time breaks.
“There are mandatory time-outs during a game and we learned to be quick to keep the spectators engaged,” Nishimoto said. “Using radios we would scan the crowd and call up to the control booth where they would show members of the audience on a giant screen. We had to go through the crowd and find people at random—who looked like they were fun. I’d tell the control booth, ‘focus in on the guy in seat 209 in the yellow shirt with the crazy hat.’”
The job was interesting but Nishimoto said he didn’t want to be on the crowd entertainment fan-experience side of the game.
“I was more into the game itself,” he said. “I wanted to be on the coaching side.”
An internship opening with the Golden State Warriors to become a “SportsVu Camera Operator” for the team’s Analytics Dept. drew Nishimoto’s interest. He applied for the post, was offered an interview and hired.
“Using cameras and computers we would film the games telling us things like how fast a player was running and how far, how much wear and tear there was on the players,” Nishimoto said. “The more information you have the better.”
That season 2015 the Golden State Warriors won the championship.
Nishimoto served for a year-and-a-half as a camera operator, but said he wanted more than a technician-type job.
“I wanted another opportunity,” he said. “I knew there would be an NBA Summer League event held that year (2016) in Las Vegas. Each year the players and coaches gather for the Summer League and this year they went to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
It was a great opportunity for me because all the NBA executives would be in one place,” Nishimoto added.
The NBA Summer League now known as the Las Vegas Summer League began in 2004 and is an off-season competition organized by the NBA. The event gives a chance to showcase players including rookies and minor leaguers (G-League), and gives executives and coaches a chance to try different summer rosters instead of their regular lineups.
Nishimoto knew that if he could attend the event he could network with officials and gain an opportunity. There was one problem. His finances were stretched and he didn’t have the money required.
“My parents said don’t do it but I decided it was worth the risk,” Nishimoto said. “Going to the conferences is a big expense with hotel bills, up to $2,500. I was maxed out on my credit card so I opened a new credit card. It was a big gamble if I didn’t come away with a job.”
At the event Nishimoto met Scott Schroeder, director of player personnel for the Reno Bighorns a G-League (Minor League) affiliate of the Sacramento Kings.
“I asked him for advice and we became good friends,” Nishimoto said. “He had a relationship with the team’s (Bighorns) general manager and he put my name in for a position.”
The Bighorns like other teams hold open tryouts for anyone to come and try for a spot as a player. Nishimoto volunteered to help out for free at a Bighorns tryout event to be held at the Sacramento Kings old practice facility (next to Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento).
“I volunteered to wipe the sweat off the arena floor,” Nishimoto said. “Because I was there Scott Schroeder and the general manager gave me an interview on the spot. They wanted to make me the team’s new video coordinator.”
As head video coordinator Nishimoto was put in charge of films of the games the Bighorns played. The films are studied to see which players are having problems that need correcting and play areas where the team is weak.
“I did the video duties and Darrick Martin the head coach of the team also gave me an assistant coaching role,” Nishimoto said. “This required me to come up with a game plan before each game, to tell players how we were going to play, and to do scouting of opponents to see what their strong and weak points are.”
Game films are studied afterwards to gauge the results.
Nishimoto does the videos but with his added duties he said he has to know as much as the team’s regular assistant coach.
This year the Reno Bighorns moved from Reno to Stockton to become the Stockton Kings, to be closer to their parent team the NBA Sacramento Kings.
Nishimoto sits next to the players during games and travels with them by commercial airline often flying into small remote towns during the seasonal tour.
“We went to Canada for a game and I’ve never had a passport before,” Nishimoto said. “On the flight you see these seven-foot-tall players scrunched in their seats with their legs around the seats.”
Only two other Japanese Americans are in somewhat similar positions. One is Natalie Nakase, assistant coach with the Agua Caliente Clippers of the NBA G-League.
Nishimoto also coaches Asian League youth players for the San Jose Ninja organization.
After six years of working and doing college course work at the same time Nishimoto this year earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in sports management from South New Hampshire University.
He is hosting an upcoming youth basketball camp titled “Hundred Hustle” to be held July 16-18 at Pioneer High School, 1290 Blossom Hill Road in San Jose. Held each of three days from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the camp will feature professional-grade training techniques for young people aged 5 to 17.
“We’ll have drills, training and filmed video breakdowns just like in the NBA,” Nishimoto said.
Interested people may go to www.hundredhustle.com.