After grinding his way up the coaching ladder, Jesse Nakanishi is finally getting his first crack at being a head coach at the college level.

Nakanishi was named the new head men’s basketball coach at Hawaii Pacific University last Wednesday after Darren Vorderbruegge stepped down from his post as head coach on March 31.

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“I’m just excited. I’m just more honored and humbled by it, by the opportunity that HPU is giving me to lead this program,” Nakanishi told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello on Monday. “It’s rich in tradition here. Coach V has done an amazing job the last 17 years here, even going back to the 90s, Coach (Tony) Sellitto and the (1993 NAIA) national championship.

“Super honored to really try and take this program back to that level. We’re going to win championships. We’re going to win and we’re going to do what needs to be done to win and give Hawaii something to be proud of and I just want to grow the game here.”

Nakanishi’s coaching career began in 2003 as the head boys basketball coach at his alma mater, Kamehameha. He guided the Warriors to HHSAA Division I titles in 2009 and 2011.

In 2011, Nakanishi made the jump to the college ranks, joining Hawaii Pacific as an assistant coach. He was named the associate head coach in 2013.

In 2017, Nakanishi departed HPU to become the director of operations for Seattle, the same position he took for the University of Hawaii from 2018 to 2021 before returning to HPU.

Vorderbruegge publicly recommended Nakanishi to be his successor upon stepping down. Nakanishi was named the interim head coach for the Sharks and promptly signed five players, including three Division I transfers.

“I think I take a lot of pride in not just being born and raised here, but also being deeply rooted in the local culture, the community here,” Nakanishi said. “I’m proud to be a native Hawaiian and our guys, they are going to feel and know what it means to live Aloha. We’re going to get in the community and give back.

“We’ve got a great product here at the Shark Tank and I think is an exciting brand of basketball. And again, something for Hawaii to be proud of.”