Williams Star Nate Karren Dreams On
Not your typical grandma.
She didn’t crochet, or knit, or quilt.
Nope. This grandma loved to hoop.
Well, she loved to watch hoops, especially with her grandson, Nate Karren.
At age four, she took him to his first Sacramento Kings basketball game at ARCO Arena and bought him a jersey and a mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Going together to the games became their thing.
Playing in the NBA became Nate's dream.
As four year-old Nate gazed out the window, his older brother, Jonah, played basketball in the front yard. Nate looked in awe. He could not wait to join.
When his brother left, he ran downstairs and went outside. He picked up the ball and tossed it as hard as he could, but it did not even touch the rim.
He tried again.
One more time…no.
A little bit harder…
It went in!
He could at least try to play his brother now... but ambitious little Nate also wanted to beat him.
Jonah and Nate met in the front yard. Game on.
Confident, Nate moved toward the hoop.
But Jonah, being stronger and bigger, dominated the game. Every time.
Nate could not bear the feeling of losing against his brother. The easiest thing to do was quit playing, but a voice in his head told him to keep trying.
"It doesn't matter what sport or activity, he is always trying to win and be the best," said Jonah.
Although Nate did not get what he wanted ––beating Jonah–– he learned a valuable lesson.
Accepting failure is the first step towards winning.
His struggle became his first success.
Love Never Ends
Apart from going to basketball games and eating ice cream together, Nate visited Grandma Lucchesi every Sunday for family time.
Every moment created a memory: If they were not eating lunch at his grandparents' farm, they played Where's Waldo, or looked at photo albums.
Every year, his family cut down a Christmas tree for Grandma Lucchesi's house.
Though for Nate, the most exciting times were spent watching basketball with her.
Nate could have never imagined a different reality, until, at the early age of 12, he faced it.
Earth-shattering news came: Grandma Lucchesi was diagnosed with lung cancer.
"To see my idol in pain and struggling with an oxygen tank on... it's deflating," said Nate.
Could their "thing" be gone forever? Nate's most cherished times with his grandmother flashed before his eyes.
His grandma's freshly made pancakes, the smell of the black coffee she always brewed, the laughs at ARCO Arena...
But Grandma Lucchesi had recovered from breast cancer five years earlier.
She beat cancer once, she could beat it twice. Grandma Lucchesi was a fighter. She knew how to get out of this.
In the meantime, he tried to keep Grandma close, so he played basketball.
But "cancer does not discriminate to whom it latches," he added.
Grandma Lucchesi did not make it.
A Meaningful Path
Nate wanted to find a way to honor Grandma Lucchesi and keep her close.
Maybe it happened when he noticed that little Kings jersey in a drawer.
Or maybe when he saw old ticket stubs lying on his dresser.
Or maybe when he had some mint chocolate chip, all by himself.
But it happened.
He found his obvious answer.
Merely playing basketball, however, would not be enough to honor Grandma Luchessi. He needed to excel.
He had a plan to do so. He’d turn the pain of losing her into fuel. The fuel needed to make the NBA.
He would turn the struggle of losing Grandma Lucchesi into an opportunity to make her proud.
High school, the place to get started.
If he played on the varsity team and stood out, he would get recruited by a D1 school. If he played D1, he would get drafted by an NBA team.
He had his plan.
He trained. Day and night. Against his brother, against his friends. Until he beat all of them.
By his sophomore year at West Campus High School in Sacramento, CA, Nate made varsity.
The team did so well that season that they reached the finals of the section championship.
They played at ARCO Arena, where young Nate used to watch the Kings games with Grandma Lucchesi.
Pressure fell on his shoulders. Not only did he have the coaches to impress, but also he knew Grandma Lucchesi watched from above.
Central Catholic hit a tough shot with 30 seconds left on the clock.
The ball ends up in the hands of one of Nate’s teammates.
The team is one point down.
He’s under the hoop.
A layup and they will win.
But he missed.
Although there was disappointment, the team gathered strength to keep going. They could still win the next season's championship.
Again, the team made it to the finals and they played against Central Catholic.
Sweat dripped and fouls hurt.
The game went to overtime. Central Catholic put up a layup, and Nate blocked it.
He tipped it out to the backcourt.
All that was left was for the clock to run out.
But a Central Catholic player grabbed the ball for a last second heave.
No chance . . .until one of Nate’s teammate fouled.
Free throws for Central Catholic.
Missing did not occur.
The buzzer sounded.
That's the second time Nate's team lost the championship. In a row.
Despite the losses, Nate won Player of the Year award at West Campus, averaging a double-double and leading the team in points per game, rebounds, and blocks.
He then put those accolades away, and began the arduous process of getting back to that final game, again.
His dream was at stake ––he was not letting Grandma Lucchesi down.
He played AAU basketball, did extra drills with the coach, and met with a personal trainer to do plyometric workouts.
Senior year came – his last chance to win.
His last chance to give the coaches the satisfaction of West Campus' first championship.
This time, they played against Placer High School.
Winning this game would grant him his last high school wish: going home with the banner – for his coaches, for his grandma, for his dream.
He could not make mistakes now ––he was not accepting the struggle of a third championship loss. Still, the insecurity of the previous loses was there. He did not want to feel like a failure.
Avoiding that feeling gave him the strength to dominate the boards all game.
West Campus won.
As soon as the final buzzer sounded, Nate ran over to his coach and they hugged. "We created history there," said Nate.
"The years of hard work, huge disappointments, and close losses, all melted away in this hard- fought victory," added Nate's mom. Another struggle turned into success.
Winds of Change
Nate was one step closer to his dream of becoming a D1 player.
He checked the mailbox. Nothing.
He checked his email. Nothing
He checked his texts. Nothing.
Nothing. No D1 offers. Was that it?
He could not give his dream up. But what to do?
He decided to do a postgraduate year at Pomfret School in Connecticut to get that D1 school scholarship offer.
Nate took a leap of faith ––and a plane.
He landed and started training straight away.
Nate barely knew anyone at that school, so he spent many nights just looking at his phone, talking to his family.
Thinking about his family and his dream made him work hard.
Training daily, he played his best basketball.
With college coaches coming into the gym, it was time for a D1 school scholarship offer to come his way.
One day, Nate got a phone call from Cornell University's head coach.
Cornell wanted to recruit him.
After all of this effort and time, things finally looked not so bad.
His dream started to take that next big step toward reality.
But then, Cornell withdrew the offer.
"That might be the lowest I've been in my basketball career," reported Nate.
"Aim For The Moon"
Seeing his dream of becoming an NBA player vanishing, Nate felt like a failure.
He did everything he could, and he still did not get a D1 offer.
What would he do now?
After the rejection of Cornell, Nate looked for a school to support him, somewhere he could feel at home.
His coach suggested Williams College, a D3 school that had been trying to recruit him for a while.
A D3 school...not what Nate fought for all this time.
Going through the struggle of losing his grandma, losing the championships, and now, getting rejected by D1 schools, was he merely going to give up his dream?
His coach, however, impressed that Williams would allow him to grow both athletically and academically - it consistently ranked amongst the best in the nation.
Nate did aspire to play basketball while growing as a person and a professional.
Though very much unsure, Nate opted to visit.
Williams had a feeling of community, a "network of people that have your best interest at heart," Nate said.
In addition, NBA star Duncan Robinson had played for Williams.
Maybe his coach was right.
And maybe he did not have to give up his dream.
But attending Williams would mean living Western Massachusetts, just about as far from home as Connecticut. He feared more isolation.
And time for another plane ride.
Nate chose to go to Williams.
Nate joined the team as a center, and in no time, he felt at home. Naturally, the awards and wins followed.
His coach, Kevin App, stated that Nate has a rare quality, that of wanting others to succeed and be better.
"It’s pretty easy to see how much he genuinely cares about other people and their success whether that’s on the court or outside of basketball," said Alex Stoddard, Nate's teammate.
Caring for his teammates came easily. Managing his rigorous schedule did not.
He missed an assignment’s due date.
He missed a night’s sleep.
He needed to change or quit.
So he did what students do what students do at Williams - learned.
He learned how to manage his time better.
And he learned how to do so and still excel.
In the 2022-2023 season, he led the Williams Ephs in rebounds and assists, ranking second on the team in field goals made and points.
"One character trait that fits Nate is ‘selfless leadership,’ commented Nate's mom, Angela Karren.
At Williams, Nate found his home away from home. Once again, turning struggle into success.
Beating the Struggle
Today, his goal is to continue growing and developing his academic skills, while also sharing the love for basketball with his teammates.
He enjoys his life at Williams and considers all the adversity he has been through one of his biggest blessings.
Although he counts on his family --and his mom to hold "#23 on the Court & #1 in My Heart" signs-- he also counts on a new family, the Williams family.
He loves being in the locker room with his teammates - and his grandma. Before she passed, she gave him a medallion. It hangs in his locker and he kisses it prior to each game. Then he leaves and makes her even prouder.
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