Dominican University Associate Director of Public Relations's Dave Albee has a nice story on former Kennedy High player Kimi Nakamura, now a senior captain at the San Rafael school.
For the start of the conditioning drills this season, Dominican University of California head women's basketball coach Brianna Chambers passed out bricks to all her players.
They were symbols of stability, inscribed with either "Past," "Pride," or "Fight" -- words Chambers believes are vital to building a solid foundation for this year's rebuilt team, which plays its home opener in San Rafael Saturday against Stanislaus State.
Chambers for two weeks instructed her players to carry the bricks with them where ever they went as a team-bonding reminder to themselves and a statement to their teammates and classmates that they were united in commitment.
"The bricks were actually Coach (Cornell) Littlejohn's idea. When he suggested it, I fell in love with the idea," says Chambers. "It just fit into everything we are trying to build as a program by combining the things we hold important."
Senior captain Kimi Nakamura took the brick and its message to heart. However, she almost lost the brick and went to great lengths to retrieve it.
Nakamura was grocery shopping one day and placed her brick in her shopping cart. In the parking lot, she grabbed her groceries and graciously gave the cart to a woman who was entering the store. Minutes later, when Nakamura arrived home and was unloading her groceries before going to practice, she couldn't find her brick.
Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. She had left her brick at the grocery store.
Nakamura hurried back and attempted to hunt down the lady whom she had passed her cart. She went inside the store and gave her telephone number and asked someone to announce over the loud speaker if anyone had found a brick.
Nakamura left to drive to practice but, five minutes later, someone from the store called and told her the brick had been found. Friend and former teammate Natalie Bentz drove by and picked up the brick and took it to Nakamura at practice.
"At the time I was stressed, but it's a funny story now," Nakamura says. "I told Coach that I want to keep it forever and when I build my dream house someday, I want to include it in the foundation."
The brick has been attached to Nakamura since. She took it with her to the hospital and explained to befuddled patients why she was carrying it. She's taken it to the class and explained to puzzled classmates and teachers as to its origin. Now it rests in her apartment.
All of the Lady Penguins had a grey brick and, though they are not required to take it with them anymore and will give them back to Chambers at season's end, they have stories they can share for a lifetime.
"Unfortunately, I think my story is the most chaotic," Nakamura says.
Fortunately, women's basketball practices at Dominican have been more organized. Nakamura, one of only two seniors on the roster, has huddled with the eight new players on the team this season.
Chambers and Littlejohn, her new assistant and a former Marine, have put the Lady Penguins through fast-paced practices to get them ready for a rugged schedule that features games against Pacific West Conference rivals Grand Canyon and Dixie State, plus Humboldt State, three teams that finished in the top 10 in the final NCAA West Regional rankings last season.
Nakamura, the team's top returning scorer and three-point shooter, is ready for it. She brings a relentless style of play and averaged 13.8 points a game in her final six outings.
"Kimi has really developed over the past four years," says Chambers. "The experience of being named captain three years ago has made her a valuable leader to this team both on and off the floor."
Joining Nakamura are returning point guard Stephanie Carnes, Nakamura's classmate and roommate, plus Lauren Hyatt and Sarah Nelson, the 6-foot-4 center who as a freshman led the PacWest in blocked shots (2.2), even though she started only one game and only averaged 13.8 minutes of playing time. She was ranked 33rd in NCAA Division II.
Newcomers include Julia Brew, a three-point shooter, Nikki Gleason, and transfers Jasmine Cox and Yvonne Sanchez, and 6-foot-1 Kelsie Niemetz, who was the Marin County Athletic League Player of the Year in 2010.
"We're a little smaller overall. We have Sarah, Lauren, Jasmine, and Kelsie but we will be lot more up tempo with full court-pressure," Nakamura says. "It definitely will be a running team, even more so than last year."
Nakamura, a biological sciences major and PacWest All-Academic performer, hopes her new-look squad develops a unique team chemistry and use preseason predictions "as fuel" to climb in the PacWest standings.
She longs for more games such as the one Dominican played in the Conlan Center on Jan. 29, 2011 when the Lady Penguins upset Hawaii Pacific, then the PacWest's first-place team with a 7-0 league record.
"I remember that feeling of how our team felt," Nakamura says. "To come out and play so well together and win at the end. We need more moments like that."
Chambers, for one, believes that is possible. One game at a time. One brick at a time.