Jun 11

Farewell, Yutaka Shimizu

When I began my full-time sportswriting career with the Daily News in 1989, covering high school sports, a major figure was the boys basketball coach at Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Yutaka Shimizu.  In fact, I interviewed Shimuzu for my first piece as a full-timer, on a Kennedy hoops star named Garret Anderson.

Eric Sondheimer (of course) of the Times is the one to pass along the sad news that Shimizu has passed away.

Yutaka Shimizu, a second-generation Japanese American who coached high school basketball in Los Angeles for more than 50 years and spent three years in an internment camp during World War II, died Sunday at a Lakewood hospital. He was 84 and had a lung ailment.

Shimizu was the head coach at Hamilton High from 1959 to 1981, coaching future UCLA All-America Sidney Wicks and leading the team to a City Section runner-up finish in 1965. He was the head coach at Granada Hills Kennedy High from 1982 to 1999.

He later became a trusted assistant coach and advisor to Derrick Taylor at Woodland Hills Taft and Bellflower St. John Bosco, staying in the background while offering words of wisdom.

“He’s the most underrated, great high school coach in our era,” Taylor said. “No one understood how good a coach and how brilliant a basketball mind he is.”

Shimizu was well known in Los Angeles. In 2007, when Taylor was coaching in the McDonald’s All-American game and walked into a room for breakfast with Shimizu, a familiar voice spoke up: “Coach Shimizu.”

It was John Wooden, the former UCLA coach. “That’s when you know you’re the man, when the ultimate coach calls you over,” Taylor said. …

The story that always sticks with me is that when I first came to know him, I knew him only as Coach Shimizu. When I asked for his first name, for publication purposes, he would only say, “Y.”  (Or maybe it was “Why?”) Either way, “Y.” is how it ran.

Farewell, sir.