Las Vegas Aces' Natalie Nakase wins first game as head coach: 'I've been preparing for this moment'

When the Aces won the championship last year, Nakase, a SoCal native, became the first Asian American coach to win an WNBA title.

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Saturday, May 27, 2023
Las Vegas Aces' Natalie Nakase wins first game as head coach
When the Aces won the championship last year, Nakase, a SoCal native, became the first Asian American coach to win an WNBA title.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Growing up playing basketball in Huntington Beach, Las Vegas Aces Assistant Coach Natalie Nakase was named Orange County High School Player of the Year.

After playing for UCLA, her pro-level career ended due to an injury so she turned her attention to coaching.

On Thursday night, the assistant coach for the reigning WNBA Champions made history.

With head coach Becky Hammon serving a two game suspension, Nakase - who joined the Aces coaching staff as the team's first assistant in February 2022 - roamed the sidelines as a head coach for the first time.

"Just excited, I've been preparing for this moment for a while but you know, the leadership of Becky Hammon, I mean she puts us in such a great position to be successful because in practices and training camps, she gives us the board, she gives us the huddle, she allows us to be a head coach so right now, it's just another rep in a different building."

The moment took place inside the iconic Crypto.com Arena, with Nakase's family and friends supporting her in the stands.

"Everything happens for a reason, I kind of always believed in that and then I think when Becky knew she wasn't going to be able to coach this game, she definitely wanted to make sure I got a rep," she said.

Nakase has always been driven, especially as a player. She turned down a full scholarship at University of California Irvine to attend her dream school (UCLA) as a walk on.

"I mean, that's just how my dad raised me, you know, always believe in yourself and you could always dream big," said Nakase. "So when people doubted me that I wouldn't be able to play there, I had no close personal friends, coaches that said I couldn't do it, you're just adding fuel to the fire."

In 2012, she began a 10-year stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, working her way up to assistant coach. When the Aces won the championship, Nakase became the first Asian American coach to win an WNBA title.

"That was just amazing," she said. "I mean, I'm a big believer on if you can see it, it can happen and representation matters so if I can help other Asian Americans that want to be in professional sports, reach out. I'll help in any way I can."

As for her head coaching debut, Nakase's Aces won Friday night's game, 94-85.

Nakase, who was recently named one of A100's most impactful Asian Pacific leaders, said she would love to be a full-time head coach, whether it be in the WNBA or the NBA - nothing is impossible in her world.