Jesse Nakanishi Announced as Next HPU Men’s Basketball Head Coach on ‘Sharks Weekly’ 


HONOLULU — Jesse Nakanishi was officially named as the next head coach of the Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball program Wednesday morning, succeeding longtime coach Darren Vorderbruegge after his retirement in March of 2023.

Nakanishi joined ‘Sharks Weekly’ immediately following the announcement, talking about how thankful he was to the people who conducted the search process to allow him this opportunity and his gratitude toward Vorderbruegge for his assistance in pushing forward the former associate head coach to greater heights.

“It’s a little surreal,” Nakanishi said of his first head coaching job at the college level. “It’s been quite a journey, definitely something I’ve been working towards every step of the way, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

The Kamehameha-Kapālama alum returned to his high school following his graduation from Lewis & Clark and eventually took over the reins of his old program, leading the Warriors to the state tournament seven of the eight years he was the head coach. 

Nakanishi won two state titles in his final three seasons coaching at KS-Kapālama before moving to the college ranks as an assistant coach under Vorderbruegge in 2012.  

“We’re a product of the people we learn from and our experiences and I couldn’t be more thankful for [Coach Vorderbruegge],” the new head coach said of his predecessor. “Next to my parents, the main guy in my life that has just mentored me along the way. I just have to give him a shoutout, big shoes to fill for sure with what he’s done here… Helping guide me, professionally and personally, has meant the world to me.” 

The journey from 2012 has been a long one that has included stops at two other schools, but “Coach Nak” returned to the familiar HPU sidelines last season as an associate head coach, helping display his ability to the school long before the national search began. 

Though he didn’t officially have the job, Nakanishi was confident in his ability and resume while HPU conducted the search, allowing him to get a head start on recruiting. 

“I’ve never been done recruiting in May, but [assistant coach Cam Flabel] and I hit the ground hard and sold our vision to [recruits] and what we have planned, and they bought into it,” Nakanishi explained of the recruiting process. “I want to really thank Dr. Debbie Snell, and even the committee, but Dr. Snell let me continue on as the interim and be able to do all the recruiting with the job still looming.” 

“I believed in myself to get this [head coaching job] and that I would be the best candidate they would see,” he continued. “I told them how confident I was in it as well and they believed in me and I’m thankful for that.” 

The new staff at HPU, comprised of many familiar faces, certainly hit the ground running this offseason while recruiting in the transfer portal. Among the players brought in for HPU include: 

Matt van Komen — 7’4 Center, transferring in from St. Mary’s, 3 years of eligibility remaining 

Tyrease Terrell — 6’4 Guard, graduate transfer from Nicholls State, former team captain, 1 year of eligibility remaining 

Charlie Weber — 6’9 Forward, transferring in from ETSU, 2 years of eligibility remaining 

Nikola Milojevic — 6’6 Forward, from Belgrade, Serbia and played at San Jose City College last season, 2 years of eligibility remaining

Miles Lewis — 6’0 Guard, transferring in from Contra Costa College, 1st-Team All-Conference last season, 2 years of eligibility remaining 

Josh Niusulu — 6’5 Forward, transferring in from Ohlone College in CA, was 1st-Team All-Defense and All-Conference last season, 2 years of eligibility remaining 

With fresh faces mixing with old ones, HPU expects to enter the season much like the staff entered the recruiting part of the offseason: fast, furious and fun. 

“We’re in it to represent the university as well as we can on-and-off the court,” Nakanishi said smiling. “We’re going to be a fun brand to watch… I want HPU to be a known commodity, here in Hawai’i and nationally. We’re going to be fun to watch and [a program that] people are going to be proud of and want to be a part of.”