Pima College’s career scoring and assist leader J.J. Nakai is heading back to this state, and her hometown of Flagstaff, to play her final season of college basketball for NAU.
Nakai is transferring from Nevada to NAU, and per NCAA transfer rules, she must sit out the 2020-21 season before playing her senior season in 2021-22.
Nakai is a Flagstaff native and former standout at Coconino High School.
“We’re obviously really excited to bring JJ home,” NAU coach Loree Payne said in a statement. “We’ve been recruiting her the past couple of years – first out of Pima – and she made the decision to elsewhere, but we’re excited that she wants to come home. She is a flat-out scoring point guard and she can play an up-tempo offensive style. That’ll fit in perfectly with what we want to do here. For her to finish out her career in her hometown in front of her family and friends; it’ll be special for her and our program.”
She played at Nevada last season after a record-breaking two-year career at Pima under coach Todd Holthaus. She set school records with 1,397 points and 442 assists and became the first Aztec women’s basketball player to be named the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) Player of the Year outright. She ranked third nationally in scoring and assists with 24.1 points and 6.7 assists per game in her sophomore year.
Nakai told The Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff that Holthaus helped her through the transfer process and that “he’s like a second dad to me.”
“He asked how things are and whatever, and I told him everything,” Nakai said of her experience at Nevada. “He said if things are not going as planned and if you are still feeling the same way you do, I can — because he knows a bunch of coaches — that he can get in contact with people and help get the recruiting going.”
Nakai earned NJCAA Division II All-American honors and led her team to 47 wins in two years. She recorded 11 30-point games and shot 41.5 percent behind the arc while drilling 151 3-pointers.
She played 21 games at Nevada this season and made one start against Utah State. The 5-foot-7 guard averaged 14.3 minutes and 3.8 points per game during her lone season with the Wolf Pack.
Nakai scored a season-best 12 points against San Jose State and tied a season-high with three 3-pointers — a number she hit on three occasions. She posted four games with at least nine points and six games with multiple shots from beyond the arc, while totaling 79 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals across 21 games.
Nakai was a three-sport athlete at Coconino, excelling in basketball, cross country and softball. She helped her team win consecutive conference basketball championships in 2016 and 2017. She was stellar in her senior season, averaging 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 3.4 steals per game on her way to first team All-State recognition.
Nakai was a three-time All-Region First Team pick and two-time Arizona Daily Sun Player of the Year. In her final high school season, she was also named to the 4A All-Conference First Team and earned both Grand Canyon Region Offensive Player of the Year and Player of the Year honors.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.