Sports writer

QUEENS OF THE COURT

In OC Register on May 4, 2016 at 9:15 pm
ImperialsPhotoCindy

PHOTO COURTESY OF CINDY YAMANAKA/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The women file into the gym, most in their late 40s to early 60s and most Asian American, every one of them eager for tipoff.

It’s a Sunday morning at a high school in Huntington Beach, but these women have been playing basketball in gyms like this, on mornings like this, for decades.

Today, it’s the High Rollers against Forever Kidz. Both teams are part of the Orange Coast Sports Association, which sponsors a basketball league of mostly Japanese American women age 40 and older. They play today because they still love the game more than they hate the sprained ankles and floor burns that come with it.

But for much of the 1970s and ’80s, the best players from each squad were teammates on Imperials Purple, the most loved, feared and copied women’s basketball team of its day.

In the vibrant world of Japanese American basketball, the Imperials of a certain era were a blend of Showtime Lakers and John Wooden-era UCLA Bruins. Only perhaps even a little more dominant.

“I always knew we were going to win,” said Stacey Honda, an Imperial during that era and after. “It was just a matter of what the score was going to be.”

Yet winning wasn’t even the biggest thing about them.

An Imperials game was an event. Grandmas, babies, mothers, fathers, cousins, siblings, friends – everyone an Imperial player knew might turn out to watch.

In an era when Asian kids sometimes faced hostility and exclusion, the Imperials competed with other basketball teams – and against expectations and bias that everyone cheering for them knew well.

They beat those too.

“Basketball gave the young Japanese girls confidence,” said longtime player Diane Okazaki.

“It was something inside,” she added.

“I could feel it. It gave you confidence in life.”

A WEDDING OR SOMETHING BIG? 

Before 2003, when she was named coach of the women’s basketball team at Chapman University, before she was a star player at Cal State Los Angeles and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the early 1990s – even before she got married, in April 1993 – Carol Jue was an Imperial.

The team was so important to Jue that she scheduled her wedding for just after the season ended. And as Jue and others played recently in Huntington Beach, it was clear Jue remains connected to the game.

“For us, for all these women,” Jue began, waving at the court, “basketball is a way of life.”

It’s a way of life for their community too.

For decades before the Imperials peaked, American immigrants from Japan – then mostly shut out of white culture – formed dozens of basketball leagues in Japanese-only communities up and down the West Coast.

The leagues initially focused on sumo and baseball, sports the first wave of arrivals learned in Japan. But by World War II, basketball was popular too.

They played hoops as prisoners in Japanese internment camps, and they kept playing it in the decades after, when they were a fast-climbing ethnic group that was moving out of segregated communities that thrived before the war. (READ FULL STORY HERE).

INSIDE J.J. REDICK’S OBSESSIVE QUEST TO MAKE EVERY SHOT HE TAKES

In SB Nation on April 12, 2016 at 11:29 am
Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images

J.J. Redick doesn’t wait. As DeAndre Jordan swats the opening tip to the Clippers, Redick dashes across the baseline as if gold awaits on the other side. Within seconds, he bolts past his defender to knock down a pull-up jump-shot against the Cavaliers on March 13.

“He’s a freak of nature,” said Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, Redick’s former Magic teammate. “I can’t think of one person that’s in better shape than J.J.”

Redick soon nets nine of L.A’s first 14 points, as he squeezes into the lane for a floater, drills another shot off the dribble and then pops a three in the corner.

Ten years into his NBA career, Redick has evolved into a more dynamic shooter, matching a career-best 16.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night. He has a blistering 47.5 percent from three and 47.9 percent from the field as the glue of the playoff-bound Clippers.

That’s because with every shot he releases and every drill he completes, Redick increases expectations for himself. He must exceed his output each time he steps on the floor.

“I think one of my strengths is just being adaptable,” Redick said before a Saturday morning practice at the team’s Playa Vista facility in late March. “I’ve had a lot of different roles in this league. Even within the same organization, year to year, your role can change. I think my mind set is always starting with self responsibility of working to get better and improve myself, but also figuring out each year: how do I help whatever team I’m on win games?”

* * *

Every Sunday afternoon in the offseason is the same for J.J. Redick. The third-year Clipper shuttles across the perimeter at full speed, mandating himself to make 140 spot-up two-pointers and 140 spot-up three-pointers. Specifically, he must make 20 shots at seven different spots on the court, one after the other. Next, imagining a hand in his face, he must make 42 pull-up jumpers off the dribble: 21 to the right, 21 to the left. Draining 20 free throws, the drill stretches to 342 total makes.

Redick, whose offseason routine includes working out six days a week and not traveling after he starts his basketball workouts in mid-July, can be a perfectionist.

“It’s more OCD. I’m pretty obsessive about things,” Redick said. He expects himself to shoot 80 to 90 percent in the Sunday drill, no excuses. “I don’t take a shot unless I expect to make it. I expect to make every shot I take,” Redick said.

While on the Magic, he’d come to practice early to drill all types of shots: floaters, pull-ups, step-backs, moving into each shot as if he were in a real game and he was running wide in transition.

“I remember he would kick the ball across the entire court,” Anderson said. “It would hit the other wall and everybody would look over, and you’d be like, ‘Oh, it’s just J.J. He might’ve missed one out of like 30.’” (READ FULL STORY HERE).

INSIDE THE NATION’S MOST INTENSE HIGH SCHOOL HOOPS RIVALRY

In Campus Rush (SI), Sports Illustrated on March 1, 2016 at 8:42 am
Tipoff3

Photo courtesy of Andrew Drennen/Cal-Hi Sports

Two hours before a recent game between fierce Los Angeles high school rivals Westchester High and Fairfax High, the gym is packed. The Fairfax band plays alongside a D.J., while fans jockey for seats on the wooden bleachers to catch the freshman and junior varsity games. “If you don’t get there early, you don’t get in,” Westchester coach Ed Azzam says.

Red banners displaying Fairfax’s City and state championships remind all what’s at stake for the Jan. 22 Western League matchup between the two schools separated 13 miles apart. It’s a rivalry that runs deep. “My uncle told me that if I lost to Fairfax—this is my freshman year when I played JV—you gotta find your own way home,” says USC associate head coach Tony Bland, an All-America on Westchester’s 1998 state championship squad.

The varsity game starts and players claw for baskets, diving after every loose ball. A block or a breakaway dunk empowers half of the gym to shout “FAX HOUSE!” The other half screams “WESSST!” Cheerleaders compete for the best flips. R&B star Chris Brown is courtside, six seats down from Flea, co-founder of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a 1980 Fairfax graduate who rarely misses a game against Westchester.

“I get really emotionally attached to the thing,” says Flea, whose real name is Michael Balzary. He met the Chili’s lead singer, Anthony Kiedis, on a rainy day in P.E. class in this gym.

Westchester floor general Terrell Waiters nails a jump shot with 1:08 left and a three with 20 seconds remaining to give the Comets a 53–47 victory, avenging last season’s loss to Fairfax for the City Open Division championship. “If you win that game, it’s like you’re king of the city,” says Josh Shipp, a former Fairfax and UCLA standout. “You walk around with your chest a little higher, your head a little higher.”

*****

Azzam and Fairfax coach Harvey Kitani couldn’t have known that they would build one of California’s great high school rivalries when they played Little League together in Gardena, Calif., and both attended Peary Middle School, Gardena High and Long Beach State. When Azzam took the Westchester job in 1979 and Kitani took the Fairfax position in ’81, L.A. high school basketball was flooded with talent at Crenshaw High, Manual Arts, Fremont and Dorsey. Azzam, who surpassed Crenshaw’s Willie West in December for all-time L.A. City-Section boys’ basketball wins (821), inherited a group that aspired to win one more game than the school’s football team (they hadn’t won a game in about three years, Azzam said). Kitani (755 career wins) inherited a program that had won City titles in ’78 and ’79 but couldn’t afford warmup gear. He would drive six players in his Honda to a store on Wilshire and Fairfax that sold two pairs of knockoff brand sneakers for $30. Soon, though, Westchester reached the City finals in ’84 and Fairfax claimed City titles in ’85 and ’87.

Derrick Mills, a Fairfax assistant coach from 1985-2006, remembers the birth of the rivalry: the 1988 City playoffs between sixth-seed Westchester and fourth-seed Fairfax. The Comets’ Renaud Gordon, Booker Waugh and Scott Crawford hounded Fairfax star Chris Mills (Derrick’s brother) with a box-and-one defense. “They took him out of his comfort zone. They wanted the other kids to beat them,” says Derrick, who played for Fairfax before transferring to Westchester. Chris Mills scored 18 points, but Westchester won, 45–42.

Over the next few decades the two schools morphed into local and national powers, oozing with future Division I and NBA talent… (READ FULL STORY HERE.)

 

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