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Alum Danny Yoshikawa: From Standout Player to History-making Head Coach

Coach Danny Yoshikawa

Alumnus and basketball coach Danny Yoshikawa’s leadership journey has rarely conformed to expectations. As he puts it: “I’ve always kind of gone against the grain.”

He stepped onto campus in the 1990s, barely a B student, his high school record as a point guard having scored scant recruiter interest.

His earliest career and academic goals? Fuzzy at best; maybe he’d study business?

Contrast that with the nearly straight As he earned as a Vikings student-athlete and the pivotal mentorship he gained as a standout player and, later, as assistant coach. As a UC Davis transfer student, he picked up two degrees and led the Aggies to the program’s first two conference championships and two NCAA tournaments, earning Player of the Year honors as a senior.

Think of it as a layup to the laureled coaching pedestal he occupies today.

In March, Head Coach Yoshikawa’s Vikings men’s basketball squad scored a West Valley College first: capturing the California Community College Athletic Association (3C2A) state championship. The 59-51 tournament win over College of the Sequoias capped off an undefeated 33-0 season. The Vikings are only the fifth men’s team in CCC history to win a state title without suffering a loss.

“West Valley is a place of transfer and second chances, and that’s what it was for me,” Yoshikawa says. “At the end of the day, it worked out. Coach (Bob Burton) showed me my potential.”

In turn, Coach Danny, as players call him, has shown hundreds of student-athletes their own potential. More than 50 currently play basketball professionally in leagues as far flung as Italy, Spain, Germany, Lithuania and the Philippines, not to mention a handful on NBA squads.

Yoshikawa credits his WVC student-athlete days for turning around his young life, work ethic and future prospects. With extra points going to the deep support, he felt from athletics counselors and to CCC hall of fame coach Burton. Burton recruited Yoshikawa as a player and gave him his first post-graduation coaching job.

“No. 1, Coach Burton, he was just an amazing dude,” Yoshikawa says. “Amazingly tough and hard on you but with this incredible knack for teaching you and (communicating) that he believed in you.”

Second on his list of credits? WVC faculty: “I had some of my best college professors there, even through my masters (program).” Thirdly, he applauds academic counselors Pauline Clark and Wanda Wong, who worked exclusively in support of WVC student-athletes.

“They were kind of surrogate moms with all the athletes,” he recalls. “They were at all the games. They were all amazingly supportive. They were a family.”

Those early experiences, he says, launched him on a path to success coaching at notable NCAA institutions—from leading powerhouse Division I teams like UC Santa Barbara and St. Mary’s College to reinvigorating the University of San Francisco program—plus a head coaching stint in a Japanese professional league. Along the way he racked up record-winning streaks at multiple schools and earned Big West Conference and West Coast Conference championships.

Academically, he added to his CV a Master of Science in kinesiology from San Jose State University to the two bachelor’s degrees he earned at UCD in international relations and Japanese. Basketball players aren’t the only WVC students to benefit from Yoshikawa’s wisdom: He’s also in the classroom each semester, instructing courses such as sports psychology, kinesiology, body sculpting and badminton.

The mental rigor is no less tough for members of his basketball squads.

“In general, we work really, really hard,” he explains. “There’s a lot of study, there’s a lot of film. We’re big on scouting our opponent; also focusing on ourselves. It’s a full-on master’s in basketball.”

Stellar college-wide support also bolsters on-court achievement, he adds.

“We cannot do this, without our campus,” he says. “The incredible support we get from the administration is not wasted—not one penny or one minute of their time—and we need that support. Because you never know which one of our students it will transform.”

Yoshikawa’s background at the professional and highest collegiate levels might have driven someone else to strive higher up the career ladder. But Yoshikawa comes from a custom mold.

When the Vikings head coach offer came in 2019, the advantages of the role — including proximity to his octogenarian parents and large extended family — made it the right choice.

Life, he says, is about your journey and relationships; doubly so when working in education.

“I’m way better at reading kids now than I was in my first WVC stint in 2005-2006,” he says. “That matters. It’s not about wins and losses, it’s about having deeper, better connections.”

“That’s what makes this level my favorite level,” Yoshikawa says. “It’s because of the growth you can see in a short period of time.”

Last Updated 5/15/24