Basketball has become a growing phenomenon in the Japanese American community consuming most families’ weekends with tournaments, practices, games, and events. With basketball becoming such a major part of our lives and our generation, we can only hope that youth are being fully enriched with not only the fundamentals of the sport, but also a sense of values, dedication, and community appreciation. For three former JA basketball players, the morals and ethics of the program made such a resonating impression, they have come back to the organization to cultivate the next generation of players in the Sabers/Saberettes Youth Basketball Organization (Sabers).
22 year old Miki Fukusumi, 20 year old Ricky Leong, and 23 year old Lindsay Mark, all former Sabers players, are now serving as head coaches in the organization. With over 35 collective years with Sabers, they have embodied the skills and principles they learned as players and are now instilling those same values and virtues in the players they coach.
Fukusumi, a youth leadership coordinator at The Let It Be Foundation, is serving as the head coach for the 2001 Sabers Pythons. She was a member of the 1990 Saberettes Sparkles team for 12 years and played varsity basketball at Diamond Bar High School.
“Being a part of the Sabers organization had such a profound effect on my life,” Fukusumi said. “Some of my greatest childhood memories came from the experiences I’ve had with this organization.”
A third year student at Cal State Fullerton, Leong is the head coach of the 2003 Sabers Panthers. He spent 10 years on the 1992 Sabers Sharks and played varsity basketball at Diamond Ranch High School.
“Not only did I learn how to play basketball, I learned the importance of hard work, team work, dedication, and perseverance,” Leong said. “It taught me that basketball is not about winning; it’s more importantly about your commitment and loyalty to your team.”
A graduate from Cal State Long Beach, Mark coaches the 1997 Saberettes Slammerz and spent 13 years with the organization as part of the Saberettes Swoosh team. In high school, she played varsity basketball at Diamond Bar High School.
“Sabers taught me skills I could use on and off the court,” said Mark. “I feel that all my coaches as a player helped me become the coach I am today.”
After graduating from high school, these three coaches graduated from the Sabers organization but have fortunately returned home to coach, hoping to make a positive impact on their players as their former coaches had on them growing up.
“I love to have the opportunity to mentor young players and hopefully give them the same experience I was lucky to have as a Sabers player,” Fukusumi said. “I hope to instill great sportsmanship, teamwork, dedication, hard work ethics, leadership, and confidence without arrogance.”
Having coached for over two years, Mark encourages her girls to go out, play hard, and give everything they’ve got. “Always have a positive attitude, try hard, and have fun,” she added. When her team accomplishes a tough win, or place in a tournament, she feels so much joy to see the girls and parents so happy.
After leading several clinics for the Sabers organization, Leong began coaching a team last year. He not only wants his players to be skilled and successful basketball players, but also able to take those same skills and apply them to their lives. “I want my boys to all be great leaders and know what it’s like to set goals and how to achieve those goals,” he said. “I advise my boys to always work hard and give 100 percent in everything they do whether it be basketball, school, or life. If you give it your best, that’s all I, or anyone else, can ask for,” he added.
The Sabers/Saberettes Youth Basketball Organization, a program of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, is grateful for Coach Fukusumi, Coach Leong, and Coach Mark coming back to serve the organization. The players, parents, and organization leaders are extremely appreciative and elated to have homegrown players returning to impart their knowledge and values in our teams. Sabers hopes their example paves the way for other former players to come back to the organization. Current player Stephanie Akune and former player Jason Iwama have already followed in their footsteps and presently serve as assistant coaches for the 2004 Saberettes Comets and 2003 Sabers Panthers respectively. Hopefully, these five exemplary coaches will help breed the next generation of JA basketball coaches and community leaders.