Last updated on March 7, 2023
Growing up in Japan, Tokina Nagai wanted to play basketball and go to college in America.
She heard about Dallas College from a family friend who attended seven years ago. She also knew church friends from her native Ehime, Japan who attended. That was enough to sell her on the Dallas College life.
“I wanted to go to college in America with my friends,” Nagai said through her interpreter. “I felt more comfortable.”
She enrolled at Dallas College’s North Lake Campus last year, but still wanted to play basketball. North Lake doesn’t sponsor a women’s basketball team, so Nagai explored other options. Eventually, she met Mountain View women’s basketball coach Keitha Dickerson, who offered an opportunity.
“My dream was to play basketball in America,” Nagai said. “During my last year of high school is when COVID hit, so my games got canceled. I wanted to find a way to play basketball again and participate competitively.”
Nagai found the perfect opportunity as the Lions are in the midst of a standout season. Mountain View won the NJCAA Division III South Central District Championship last weekend, securing the program’s first appearance in the NJCAA Division III National Tournament March 15-18 in Rochester, Minnesota.
Nagai did her part in the South Central District championship game on Saturday, finishing with four points and a team-leading five assists in Mountain View’s 67-57 victory over Cedar Valley.
At 4-foot-11, Nagai knows she’s undersized. But she’s found ways to use her stature to gain an edge such as forcing her opponents to play lower to the floor on the defensive end. On the offensive end, she’s a threat to score by shooting 45% from the field.
As Dickerson put it, “It may not show up in the stats every night, but she’s a game changer. With her being so low to the floor and so quick, she can really change the tempo of the game, and get in there and make those players foul her.”
Nagai, like any good team player, downplays her individual success. Instead, she credits those around her.
“Basketball is about playing as a team, and my coach is there to support us,” Nagai said. “So, I really appreciate my team and everybody I play with.”
Beyond The Court
Nagai, who had a 4.0 GPA in the fall, is majoring in health sciences. After her basketball days, she plans to become a massage therapist.
“Living in the Dallas community is really refreshing,” she said. “I feel safe in some ways, and the people are friendlier than I expected. Because my English isn’t really great, I get shy talking to American people. Around my Japanese friends, I’m really outgoing, really loud. I am trying to learn English so I can communicate better with my teammates and other people.”
Don’t be fooled, though. Whenever Nagai is in her comfort zone, she is known to light up a room with her bubbly personality. And she’s been fortunate to find enough Japanese restaurants in the area to get her fix of salmon sushi.
Speaking of food, Dickerson shared a story from a November trip the Lions took to Western Oklahoma State College. Dickerson is from Oklahoma, and wanted to give her family, including her 83-year-old grandmother, an opportunity to see Mountain View play.
Along the way, the team stopped at an all-you-can-eat buffet and it proved to become a telling moment about how Nagai is wired.
“T was about to eat something that she had never saw or ate before in her life. I had to tell her, ‘That’s liver,’” Dickerson said. “We had to explain it to her over and over. She goes, ‘No, no, no, I don’t eat liver.’ We didn’t have Japanese food, but she’s so willing to try things and is outgoing. It’s just great to see because a lot of my student-athletes are like, ‘Oh, no coach, I don’t do that.’ T’s always willing to try something new.”