Richard Kawakami eligible and ready to contribute for Valencia boys basketball

Golden Valley's Richard Kawakami (5) shoots against Hart's Whitten Dominguez (10) at Hart on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

One way or another, Richard Kawakami was waiting, hoping on a decision.

The 6-foot-5 junior forward transferred into Valencia from Golden Valley in November. The next step was getting him eligible to play for the upcoming season.

Vikings coach Bill Bedgood wasn’t given even as much as a time frame from CIF on when a decision would be rendered. Through the team’s preleague slate, there still wasn’t a conclusion.

“I just wanted to know,” Kawakami said.

On Monday, he got his answer.

Kawakami was deemed eligible to play immediately, and scored 10 points off the bench in the Vikings’ win over Saugus to open Foothill League play.

“As soon as I found out, I was as excited as ever,” Kawakami said. “ … A lot of adrenaline. I liked the environment. Saugus’ stands were filled, Valencia’s stands were filled. It was just a good environment to play in.”

Kawakami, who has garnered interest from CSU Northridge, was a second-team All-Foothill League contributor for the Grizzlies last season. He was able to practice with the Vikings leading up to gaining eligibility. He’d already impacted the team, though, bringing a spark and above-average ability to practice on a daily basis.

“I just felt good for the kid,” Bedgood said. “I couldn’t tell you how many times he’d come up and ask me, ‘Coach, have you heard anything?’

“I was just trying to mentally prepare him for anything. In my heart, I knew he deserved to play. He’s worked hard to get to this point and is excited to be here.”

As far as why the process took so long, Bedgood chalked it up to an excess of paperwork and a lot of due diligence.

But the paperwork is a thing of a past.

Kawakami now pairs with forwards Jayden Trower and Josh Assiff to give the Vikings the league’s tallest frontcourt — by a longshot. The Vikings also return last year’s co-Foothill League Player of the Year, Dexter Akanno.

MORE: Foothill League boys hoops roundup: Valencia height too tall of a task for Saugus

“He gave us such a spark that first game off the bench, we felt like we could’ve started him right away,” Bedgood said. “He’s kind of brought us a new energy.”

With Kawakami’s presence, there was also the potential for egos and playing time to fog up the bigger picture for Valencia.

That was never an issue, though. Bedgood was “pleasantly surprised” at the way Kawakami was embraced.

“Everyone has accepted me,” Kawakami said. “I look up to guys like Dexter, too. I felt like this was where I needed to be.”

Bedgood and the rest of Valencia’s coaching staff discussed the reasons behind his transfer shortly after he arrived on campus. While Bedgood and Kawakami didn’t wish to divulge the particulars from that conversation, the issues went beyond basketball.

For now, though, Kawakami’s only focus is to get the Vikings into the postseason.

“I’m ready to do the dirty work,” Kawakami said. “There are already players that can score, I just need to rebound, hustle, play defense and make that extra pass.”


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