Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog



Legendary Coach Jimmy Yagi - Hawaii Living Treasure

Legendary Coach Jimmy Yagi - Hawaii Living Treasure

BIG DOG #300 (February 16, 2009)

    Today is a special day in the life of “Running with the Big Dog” as it has reached its 300th column in this newspaper.

    With the special occasion I wanted to select someone who can best illustrate longevity and at the same time came close to the magic number, 300.

    The person that I selected to help celebrate my milestone is the legendary University of Hawaii at Hilo basketball coach, Jimmy Yagi.

   Yagi had an extremely impressive reign as Vulcan coach, amassing a career record 252 wins and 126 losses before retiring in 1985.

   “I retired one year after my father died from a heart attack,” Yagi said.

   Yagi was named NAIA District II Coach of the Year and led the Vulcan team to the NAIA National Basketball Tournament as District Champions in Kansas City three times.

   In 1993 this basketball legend was inducted into the inaugural UHH Hall of Fame and in 1997 was nominated by then County Mayor Stephen Yamashiro as the Hawaii state winner as a “SGMA Heroes” in recognition of outstanding contributions to his local sports community.

   Following retirement and until this very day Coach Yagi continues to volunteer at youth camps throughout the Big Island as well as on Oahu, Maui and Kauai.

    Since the mid 1970’s Yagi has helped put on a UHH Vulcan Basketball Camp for 180 campers.  Other camps include the Hawaii Baptist Academy 4 day camp for 120 campers that he has hosted for 12 years and the Maui Basketball Camp at Baldwin High and Maui Memorial Gym for 180 campers for the past 15 years.

    Yagi also puts on free basketball clinics for the Kauai County Recreation Agency (17 consecutive years) and the County of Hawaii Parks and Recreation Department for 100 players (14 years).  In 2008, he also taught at free basketball clinics for the County recreation division in Kona and Naalehu.

    And what impresses me even more is that this active 73 year old continues to stay young with regular physical exercise.

    Yagi can be found most morning at Kamehameha School’s Nae’ole Aquatics Center where he will get a good cardiovascular workout swimming laps up and down the pool.

   “I’ll swim 40 laps or 2000 meters in the pool five days a week and I also do some leg work on the side of the pool which includes jump pushes and squats in the water,” he said.

   He might also be one of the best active senior basketball players in the nation as he can drain 15 footers from anywhere on the court.

   “I still play basketball three times per week and since I can’t run up and down the court like I used to I better be able to hit those jump shots.  My jump shot has been reduced to about an inch and a half off the ground,” Yagi said with a grin.

    As for diet Yagi believes in the “Law of the Half.”  “Just eat half of what you have and take the rest home,” he said.  “By doing that you’ll not only keep your weight in check, but you’ll save money as you will have another meal to eat.”

     Yagi is one of the few people I know that has kept his college playing weight of 150 pounds and more than fifty years later weighs in at 153.

     Yagi got his start playing high school ball for Hilo back in the ‘50’s and was coached by another legend, Ah Chew Goo.

    Attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Yagi was content with playing on the junior varsity team.  “Playing JV meant I got to play in the game regularly as I knew that I’d be on the bench if I was on the varsity,” he said.

    But in his final year of college Yagi was surprised to learn that his tuition was waived and that Goo had become the head coach at Manoa.  “Ah Chew wanted me to play my senior year on the varsity and I reluctant at first because I knew I wouldn’t get much playing time.”

    “Sitting on the bench I learned a lot about basketball and I learned a lot from watching Ah Chew coach,” Yagi said.  His tuition being waived saved Yagi $250 for the year, “a lot of money back then,” he admits.

    “This past Christmas, when I was reading greeting cards from many of my former players, I suddenly realized that I had never really thanked my coach for everything he had done for me,” Yagi said.

    So Yagi wrote a belated letter to thank his coach and mentor, Ah Chew Goo, for helping him to become who he is today.

    “I also wanted to give thanks for that $250 scholarship that I received in 1956 and my wife and I decided to pay that back, with interest.”  The Yagis then made a $25,000 donation to the UH Foundation as his gesture of repaying that which he received more than 50 years ago.

   The Yagis have endowed a UH-Hilo scholarship honoring their parents.  It will be known as the “James S. and Kameko Yagi/Sadao and Bessie Y. Nishida” Scholarship.

   His wife, Jeanne, is retired and volunteers as the coordinator of Positive Coaching Alliance on the Big Island.

    There is so much to tell about Jimmy Yagi that this brief column really doesn’t do him justice.  I wanted to talk about his UH Vulcans playing the Runnin’ Rebels of Las Vegas in the highest scoring game in NCAA history, or his trip to Europe where he was given a five year contract with Addias to help put on clinics around the continent.

    There are so many interesting stories to tell as Yagi is a living treasure for all of us.  But I will end this column with Yagi’s four rules for athletes which also transfer into life in general:

   Be on time, pay attention, be enthusiastic and always have FUN!  FUN!  FUN!


   “Sports bring out character, tremendous character in some kids,” Jimmy Yagi, legendary coach and humanitarian said.

    And someday should you happen to see a enthusiastic athlete come jogging through the streets of Hilo remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

    Email the Big Dog at waiakeabigdog@aol.com.


February 24, 2009 - Posted by | Profiles | ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hawaii Reporter had an article about Mr. Yagi today:


    Comment by Damon Tucker | February 26, 2009 | Reply

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