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Student-athlete finds family 1500 miles from home

Not many people know that the soccer ball was originally used when playing basketball. This changed in 1929. But for Minot State University senior April Nakatani the two sports go hand-in-hand.

The 5-foot-4-inch guard for the MSU women's basketball team began playing basketball and soccer in middle school and continued through high school.

"I've always played soccer, coming from a family with lots of boy cousins and being the only girl, so I've always been a tom-boy," said Nakatani. "My dad loved basketball and after I tried out in seventh grade, I haven't let go of a basketball since."

Nakatani has the willpower and drive to face any challenge that gets thrown her way. Born in Los Angeles, when Nakatani was six, she and her family moved to Sacramento, Calif., to help with the family's Japanese Mochi shop, which has been a part of her family for more than 50 years.

With no exact plan after high school, Nakatani started taking general education courses at Cosumnes River College, a junior college in Sacramento. Nakatani played two incredible seasons of basketball and was recruited after her sophomore year at CRC, by Sheila Green Gerding, MSU head women's basketball coach.

Top: the family's Japanese Mochi shop,
Left: April and family, Right: April's Grandfather

Nakatani always had a close connection with her grandfather, who went to every single basketball game while she attended CRC. He was the reason her family moved to Sacramento. Around the time Nakatani was getting ready to sign with MSU, her grandfather suffered a severe brain tumor. She made the difficult decision to stay in Sacramento to help her family and be by her grandfather's side.

Nakatani thought that she was never going to dribble the ball on a college court again.

"The last thing my grandpa said before he passed away was to follow my dreams and to continue to play basketball because that's what he loved to watch me do," Nakatani said.

Nakatani came to MSU with a purpose in mind and found a love in corporate fitness, physical therapy and coaching.

"April is a spark for our team. She genuinely cares about her teammates and wears her heart on her sleeve," Green Gerding said. "I am so proud of how she has persevered through everything. Being in Minot has helped her learn to take care of herself, set goals and reach them."

For Nakatani's future, she hopes to pursue a master's degree in physical therapy and coach basketball from the sidelines for young athletes like herself.

"I owe everything to my family, friends, parents and, most of all, my grandpa for never giving up on me and motivating me to believe in myself," Nakatani said.