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Kamehameha coach resigns, joins HPU staff

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Longevity as a boys basketball coach in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu barely exists now.

With Jesse Nakanishi’s departure from Kamehameha to become an assistant at Hawaii Pacific University, Dean Shimamoto, who just completed his second season as head coach at ‘Iolani, is now the unofficial dean of ILH boys hoops Division I coaches.

Nakanishi’s imprints on Kamehameha basketball will last for a long time.

“I’ve been swarmed with support from every angle,” he said. “I’m going to miss the people. Everybody, our coaches, has been on the same page and supported the program. The people, that’s what I’ll miss. And, of course, state championships don’t get old.”

Nakanishi put in more than a decade at Kamehameha, first with the intermediate program and gradually as varsity head coach (eight years).

He took over after Micah Kroeger and Darryl Gabriel had short stints. The result was stunning success, including state championships in 2009 and this year. The ’09 crown ended a state-title drought of 17 seasons.

This season, with a 6-foot-5 shooter (Micah Christenson) and a wealth of long-range bombers, Kamehameha went 25-7 overall. After finishing second in the ILH, the Warriors won four games in four nights to win the state championship.

“My goals have been fluid and changing as we went along,” said Nakanishi, 34. “In the past couple of years, I’ve been wanting to get to the next level of coaching. High school coaching is a huge challenge, but getting to the next level, there’s so much going into it.”

Nakanishi had spent the past year working in HPU’s admissions program after a decade employed with Kamehameha Schools.

“I’m looking forward to learning from Coach V (Darren Vorderbruegge),” he said. “College coaching is all about recruiting and I have no experience with that, so I have to learn and network. There’s on-court coaching at practice, then there’s a whole other realm of recruiting year-round, learning NCAA compliance issues. That’s a part of coaching that’s enticing to me. It’s totally different. You’re choosing your players to fit your system instead of creating a system that fits the personnel you have.”

Back in the ILH, turnover is now 100 percent in Division I since ’09. Darren Matsuda (Punahou), Kawika Smith (Damien) and Keith Spencer (Saint Louis) completed their first go-around. Walter Marciel was a first-year coach for Academy of the Pacific, which made its D-I debut. Nate Hu, whose wife is expecting twins, stepped down at Mid-Pacific after two years. Also this spring, Maryknoll replaced Byron Mello with Kelly Grant. If University High moves up to D-I as expected, the mantle of “dean” would go to Walter Quitan, who has been with the Junior Rainbows for about 16 years as a coach.

Nakanishi’s transition to the college game will be interesting. Other successful gurus at the prep level have made the switch over the past few decades. Many moved directly into head-coaching positions, such as Tony Sellitto (from Maryknoll to HPU) and Pete Smith (Kailua to Chaminade).

“Coaches tend to get hungry for that next challenge,” said Ryan Hogue, former Academy of the Pacific head coach and current AOP athletic director. “When you’ve accomplished your goal — and he did a fantastic job this year — you want to challenge yourself.”

“For Jesse, there’s no better time than now,” said Shimamoto, adding that he’s in no rush to pursue a position at the next level. “On the high school level, he’s done an incredible job. His teams are always well prepared, with different ranges of talent over time.”

Shimamoto and Nakanishi, who are rivals and friends — frenemies, went back and forth with conversations during the year.

Shimamoto already knew about Nakanishi’s new employer when the season began.

“I was joking with him all year, ‘You and Micah can go already,’ ” Shimamoto said.

Soon enough, Christenson became player of the year again and Nakanishi is, indeed, gone.

“I want to keep our program continuing, so my recommendation was to keep it in house,” he said of the next Warriors coach.

Damien football taking applications for coach

Damien Memorial School is interviewing candidates for its varsity head football coaching position until April 27. Qualified applicants can contact athletic director Wally Aina Jr. at 454-3845 or at

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