By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Sports Editor
ORANGE — In spite of all her grit, resilience and drive, this was a night that found Lauren Kamiyama completely out of her comfort zone – at the center of attention.
“Everyone knows I don’t like being in the spotlight, but I’m incredibly honored and humbled for this,” she said.
The evening was one of celebration, as Kamiyama joined three other former athletes as the 2022 induction class into the Chapman University Sports Hall of Fame.
The all-time Panthers leader in women’s basketball assists (424) graduated in 2009, after a brilliant career that also saw her set the record in steals with 242. She is third all-time in three-pointers and missed reaching 1,000 total points by only seven.
These impressive stats were achieved despite missing a full season to have her kness surgically repaired.
Also inducted were Buddy Klovstad (’06, baseball), Maggie Wilder Werner (’07, softball) and Jillian Felger-Mabee (’09, volleyball).
In her remarks, Kamiyama was quick to insist that the honor was as much for her teammates and coaches as it was for herself.
“When I talk about Chapman, I talk about the family atmosphere and the intangibles the university brings – the care for us, not only as students or athletes, but as human beings,” she said. “We all benefit from the coaches who go beyond coaching and continue to mentor you for life, as we transition from teenagers into adulthood.”
She poked a bit of fun at her height in thanking the athletic staff for “helping all 5-foot-1 of me” to be successful.”
Chapman’s “Night of Champions” was the first since the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when – quite ironically – the Hall of Fame committee had decided to switch the induction ceremonies from every two years to an annual event.
The night was filled with stories and recollections, and Kamiyama certainly brought several to share.
At the start of her junior year, the Panthers’ roster had dwindled to just 10 players, prompting head coach Carol Jue to recruit members of the jog-walk class to suit up as a opponents for practices.
There was also some “grocery store persuasion” by Kamiyama to convince her close pal Jessica Kunisaki to come back for another season.
She recalled experiencing real snow for the first time on a team road trip, and learning there’s no time change when you travel to the San Francisco Bay Area.
And of course, there were memories of the thrilling overtime win against La Verne in the 2007 Division III playoffs.
“We were down five with 25 seconds to go,” she recalled “There was a three-pointer, a steal and a layup to send it into overtime. We went back and forth through overtime and pulled out a win.
“After celebrating, it was close to midnight by the time we left the gym. And somehow, we were expected to go back, pack, and get on an early flight to Brownsville, Texas. Has anyone ever heard of that city? It’s a city where basketball was the highlight. Everything was closed – gas stations, supermarkets and restaurants, all closed down for the game.
“Although we didn’t win, that 48 hours was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – the highs and lows, memories that will last forever.”
At times, Kamiyama paused to keep her emotions in check as she reflected on the path that led her to Chapman. Growing up in an athletics-loving family, she was a three-sport star at Cerritos High in basketball, soccer and softball – until her world seems to crumble.
Her senior season was cut short by knee injuries. Her mother, Sue, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Kamiyama said. “When my mother became ill my senior year in high school, I chose to stay closer to home and spend what little time I had left with her.
“She passed away before she could see me play even one game as a Panther. But if it wasn’t for her, wouldn’t have been a Panther. I was slated to go to San Diego State and be an Aztec.”
Kamiyama said her mother, the former athletic director whose name is now emblazoned on the basketball court at Bell High School, was uncompromising in raising her three kids.
“She was hard on me in all aspects of life – from school to sports, to just being a good person. That’s what makes me who I am today. Growing up, she was my biggest critic but also my biggest fan.”
The committment and fidelity Sue shared with young Lauren was never more evident than the day she showed up for her first freshman year practice at Chapman – one day after her mother had passed away.
Kamiyama saved some of her most heartfelt comments for Jue, whom she said had faith in a short kid out of high school, still recoving from injury and suddenly dealing with unimaginable emotions.
“I lost one mom as a freshman, but then gained another,” Kamiyama said, thanking Jue for “late-night talks, long road trips, getting healed up for the next game, and for taking me under your wing, for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Kamiyama has continued to share her love of basketball, and sports in general. She has been the head girls basketball head coach at North Torrance High since 2011, and took over as the school’s athletic director in 2016.
Citing her continued close relationship with Jue, Kamiyama described her program at North as the “unofficial feeder program into Chapman women’s basketball.”
“The way Coach Jue builds and maintains relationships with her players is second to none, and it’s something I strive to do every day as a coach and athletic director,” she said.
Kamiyama expressed gratitude for her grandparents, who worried “because they said I played recklessly and basketball is a dangerous sport,” as well as the late referee legend Freeman Beale.
“Although I’m being inducted in the Chapman Hall of Fame, all of you are in my hall of fame,” she said.
Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo