There haven’t been a lot of Asian basketball players in the ACC, much less at Duke. We can only think of a handful: Tony Rutland, whose mother was Korean, played at Wake Forest, Kihei Clark, currently at Virginia, who is Chinese, Filipino and Black, Isaiah Wong currently at Miami, whose grandfather is Chinese, and of course Filipino Chip Engelland, who played at Duke in the late ‘70s and into Coach K’s first year.
There haven’t been too many though so it’s really exciting to see Duke freshman Jessica DeJesus on the women’s team.
DeJesus grew up in California and got a chance to meet the late Kobe Bryant and to be mentored by him for a time at his Mamba Sports Academy.
As you probably know, Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, was a highly promising young talent in her own right and both died in a helicopter crash earlier this year on their way to the Academy.
DeJesus says that “[j]ust hearing from him, beyond the court, Kobe is, like his mentality and just understanding the game, it’s unreal. And he’s such an amazing person, actually. Like you see how he is like off-camera, it’s just, he’s even better than you think.
“And also his work ethic, I just think he’s an amazing person and such an intelligent man overall. I’m just blessed, with him I learned a little bit about basketball.”
Speaking of Asian basketball players, one of the stories we really wish we knew more about is the life of Wat Misaka.
He was born in 1923 and even before Pearl Harbor faced a lot of racism and segregation. He played for Weber State and then Utah and helped the Utes win the 1944 NCAA championship. Salt Lake City was just a few hours Northwest of Moab, where one of the Japanese internment camps was built and where he may well have had relatives.
During the victory parade, his mother told him he had been drafted. He came back after the war and Utah won the 1947 NIT, which was then a much bigger deal.
Then in 1949, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks and became the first non-white player in NBA history (trivia buffs, take note).
The Harlem Globetrotters approached him but by then he was studying engineering and didn’t want to continue his basketball career.
It’s an amazing story and we wish someone would make a movie about it.