Viking hopes to continue winning ways

Valencia's Richard Kawakami palms a basketball after a practice at Valencia High School on Wednesday. Haley Sawyer/The Signal
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When former Valencia hoops and current Fresno City College men’s guard Richard Kawakami stepped foot on the school’s campus for the first time in the summer, he didn’t quite know what to expect.

Making the 190-mile-plus trek and arriving in Fresno on June 15, Kawakami committed to playing for the Rams and head coach Ed Madec because of the legacy the team’s built over the last two decades. 

Winning 18th straight Central Valley titles, the Rams have been a force to be reckoned with and their hardware proves it, and are the favorites to repeat once again.

Waking up at 6 a.m., practicing for two hours, lifting weights and adding an extra shoot-around or lifting session, the freshman’s schedule is arduous, but it doesn’t keep Kawakami from seeing the bigger picture.

“At the end of the day, that’s one of the reasons I came here: was to be focused on school and basketball and try to get out and make it to a four-year college; try to matriculate and win a state championship,” Kawakami said. 

“I just feel like this work will pay off in the long run and we will get that state championship like we all want to. That’s the reason I came to Fresno, that’s why my teammates came to Fresno, to be a contender and uphold this legacy at Fresno City.”

Grinding day and night, on and off the basketball court, Kawakami has contributed mightily to the team’s 16-3 overall record and 6-0 start in league play.

Standing 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, the freshman’s gritty, hustler style play has made him a pivotal cog on the team. Kawakami comes off the bench, ranking second on the team at 4.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He hasn’t had to score too much (5.6 points per game), but he’s taken an interest in being a facilitator to his teammates.

Kawakami even recorded seven blocks in a 103-61 win over West Hills Coalinga on Jan. 15, and leads the team in field-goal percentage (50%).

“When I come in with my unit, I just want to get my unit going and get into the flow, so I look to facilitate a lot because I have a lot of scorers around me,” Kawakami said. “I just want to get them going and continue to do the dirty work that I’ve been doing. Trying to hustle for those rebounds, loose balls, get my teammates going with assists and taking charges.”

Growing with his teammates throughout the season, Kawakami cannot stress just how far the team has come from their first days together and now have a common goal.  

“We have a bunch of players that can do multiple things, we don’t really have one-trick ponies, so that helps,” Kawakami said. “That translated off the court, fast. At the end of the day, we all came here for one reason and that’s to go to a four-year and win a state championship.” 

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