Rio Yamazaki traveled more than 7,000 miles to fulfill her dream of playing basketball in the United States.
Although the Japanese-born point guard has achieved that goal, it has been a bumpy road.
After transferring to Miami Dade College last season, the five-foot-two inch sophomore was averaging 10.3 points and five assists through nine games. But then she broke her left wrist in a game versus Chipola College on Dec. 2.
The injury sidelined her for the rest of the season.
“I was devastated,” said Yamazaki, who was granted a medical redshirt because of the injury.“Every game I sat on the bench wishing I was on the court with my teammates.”
Yamazaki had surgery in July and is doing physical therapy three times a week at NextGen Physical Therapy in Sunset, Florida. She is expected to be cleared to play by November, giving her time to prepare for next season, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 22.
“She has worked hard and long in her recovery,” said Lady Sharks’ Head Coach Susan Summons. “Shark Nation is excited [that] she is back to help lead this program to a State Championship and Nationals.”
Yamazaki had dreamt of playing basketball in the U.S. since she was 12. In 2017, she attended a two-week basketball camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. She impressed the staff and was granted an athletic scholarship for the postgraduate basketball team.
After two years at IMG Academy, Yamazaki got an opportunity at South Georgia Technical College but she struggled. In 30 games for the Lady Jets, she averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 assists per contest.
She also struggled to learn English. Yamazaki communicated using Google Translate and her teammates used simple words and spoke slowly. The culture shock of being thousands of miles away from home added to her stress. Things that Americans deemed as normal such as braids were alien to Yamazaki.
With her struggles mounting, she decided it was time for a change. Yamazaki emailed various coaches from across the country to find a better fit. After getting no responses, Yamazaki lost faith until she heard back from Summons.
“Rio has great court vision, strength off the pass, tenacious defense, high IQ, and the ability to score and push in transition,” Summons said. “In short, she is a tremendous point guard.”
Yamazaki has blossomed at MDC. She scored in double figures in six of the nine games she played last year including a 16-point and nine assist performance versus Eastern Florida State College on Nov. 15.
As her comfort level increased on the court, her confidence has grown off it. With her English improving, Yamazaki is sharing a bit of her culture with her teammates.
“She has us trying different Japanese food every day,” said sophomore point guard Ahmari Young, who is battling Yamazaki for playing time. “She makes me a better player on the court and a better person off it. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.”