October is more than another month in the midst of a global pandemic.
For Chanelle Molina, it is time to become a professional basketball player. The former Washington State and Konawaena standout makes her debut for the Norrköping Dolphins on Saturday in the season opener of the top-tier Swedish Basketball League. That first paycheck as a pro baller won’t go anywhere exotic.
“I’m just trying to save up. I’ve been splurging this whole quarantine,” Molina said.
Thursday is a rare day off for the Dolphins after daily two-a-days, and Molina is in the gym getting extra reps. Norrköping has won five championships since its inception in 1963, the most recent in 2017-18. Molina, coming off an arduous, successful senior season at Washington State, is already penciled in as a starting guard.
“The process, it was really difficult. A lot of teams had to cut their budget because of (COVID-19), so it was really hard to find a spot during these times,” she said.
The voyage to Scandinavia began in Kailua-Kona, where Molina was recharging after a long Pac-12 season. The plan was to fly to Arizona and spend six months training. Instead, Molina’s agent found an opportunity in Europe. The stay in Arizona lasted just two days.
“I arrived (in Sweden) on Sunday night. I was in Arizona and then from Arizona to Denver, Denver to New York, to Portugal, then Stockholm,” she said. “Then I took a train to Norrköping.”
The voyage was 20-plus hours in all.
“I watched Netflix,” she said of layovers in New York and Portugal. “I arrived pretty late at night around 10. One of the people working in our club picked me up. I guess he’s an assistant coach. He’s managing all the Americans coming in and I was the last one that night.”
There hasn’t been time to do much sight-seeing, but that will come.
“We have an away game this Saturday so I’m expecting to see some things. It’s my first time in Europe. Everything is a cultural shock. The food is a lot more fresh and good for you than in America. You know the added sugars you find in America? You don’t find that here,” Molina said.
When she arrived, there was enough time to enjoy a nearby lake.
“I walked around the town and got some good pictures. That was cool. Me and my two American teammates, we’re all sharing one car, so we’re thinking of going to the coast and check out the water,” she said.
There will be long bus rides. A busy workout schedule. The game is now a job, but the passion remains. It has grown since the anticipation and disappointment of the WNBA’s draft day. Molina heard from one of the league’s powerhouse franchises, yet went unselected through each of three rounds. Only one other Konawaena player has ever been drafted: Lia Galdeira, the 19th pick of the Washington Mystics in 2016.
“I was a potential pick for the Connecticut Sun. They actually called my head coach at Washington State about my work ethic and stuff like that. They gave me a call and asked what I like to do with my free time, get to know me as a person. Draft day comes. I was excited and nervous, and I didn’t get picked,” she said.
As always, however, Molina responded the same way to a penultimate moment. She went back to work.
“After the draft, I was motivated more than ever and disappointed at the same time. A little bump in the road just means another route I have to take to the WNBA. That’s what God planned for me. My mentality is get better every day and do what I can,” she said.
Rest was as important as training. Molina averaged 38 minutes per game as a senior. The grind caught up with her late in the season.
“Towards the end of the Pac-12 season, my last regular-season game, I hurt my knee against Oregon State,” she said. “The Oregon State doctor looked at it, but I didn’t get the results back until I got back to Pullman. Just rest, ice, elevate. It wasn’t major, nothing structural.”
It was the same knee as an ACL injury three years earlier during freshman year.
“I just, I don’t know, from all the minutes my body took a toll. The first game in the Pac-12 tournament, I wasn’t 100 percent. I had a knee brace and all. I powered through that,” she said. “I was taking pain pills.”
Then came the offseason. Graduation. She earned a degree in Social Sciences.
“After the season ended, I rested for a little bit and I was back into it again,” Molina said. “My plan was to train (in Arizona) for six months, prepare my body, but I got a call from my agent and I couldn’t turn that down. My parents (Roselyn and Allan) were super happy that I get to continue playing basketball. They were super stoked for me. As long as I’m happy, they’re happy.”
Her sense of urgency is at a peak.
“It’s kind of like my (freshman) year, I didn’t really care how many minutes I get, just play basketball, get my foot in the door and other doors open up,” she said.
And now, just days after landing on a new continent, game time nears.
“Our first game is at Gothenburg (against Hogsbo). My teammates said it’s a four-hour drive and we’re taking the bus,” Molina said.
The Dolphins were 11-9 and placed fourth out of 11 teams last season, which was cut short by the pandemic. They lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Molina’s adjustment to a new land, 7,009 miles from home, has gone well.
“It’s been a smooth transition from the start. They’re all bilingual and speak English from when they’re young. It’s nice to have that,” Molina said.
Even typical coronavirus protocol is different. Sweden embraced a herd immunity approach in the spring. That led to a higher death rate per case — as high as 19 percent in the spring — for Sweden compared to its neighbors, Finland and Norway. As of mid-September, the rate dropped below 2 percent, the lowest in Scandinavia.
“It’s really chill over here. No one’s wearing a mask and if you do, they look at you weird. They have it under good control here,” Molina said.
Back home on the Big Island, her certificate of degree hangs in her parents’ home.
“I’m the first in family to graduate from college so there’s a big frame,” she said.
Younger sisters Celena Jane and Cherilyn are still at Washington State, carrying the torch on the hoops squad.
In women’s pro basketball, players often find better contracts overseas. Some play in the U.S. and on foreign turf, staying busy year-round.
“That’s what I heard. I don’t know the specifics about that. My body won’t last that long, so I’ll try to play as much basketball as I can,” Molina said.
If it came down to a choice, which would she choose: the WNBA or overseas?
“That’s a good question. I’m probably would focus on the WNBA and just show out in that league,” she said. “I want to keep advancing in my basketball career. I’m in a decent league right now. Keep finding teams and producing numbers, get exposure, network and make connections with other people. See how far basketball will take me. The WNBA is the ultimate goal, but as long as I do my best, I’m content with that, too.”
The game is universal. Even her Wazzu team had plenty of international players. Molina has always thrived in a family of basketball, from Coach Bobbie Awa’s Stingrays and Konawaena programs to a new chapter in Pullman.
“This is what Auntie Bobbie said and it stuck: always stay humble and kind. With that, you respect the game yourself and others. Being humble means working hard and not boasting about it,” Molina said.
As a youth player, she spent hours in the driveway working on her skills. Her advice to young hoopsters is the same.
“As much as you can every day, go outside — you don’t even need a hoop — and work on ball handling for 30 minutes. That adds up at the end of the week,” she said. “Auntie Bobbie, the fundamentals she taught us, it translates to the game well. People teach fancy moves and hezis, but what about simple things: jabs, footwork, passing. Simple things go a long way,” Molina said.
On the court, the Swedish League uses the NCAA men’s 3-point line, 22 feet and 1.75 inches.
“I was shooting from the men’s line in college, so I’m used to it. We had two lines in Beasley (Coliseum), so I got confused. I always shot behind the men’s line,” Molina said.
After three seasons as the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball All-State player of the year at Konawaena — and three consecutive state titles (2014, ’15 and ’16), Molina matriculated to Washington State.
There, the 5-foot-9 guard averaged 13 points per game as a freshman before suffering an ACL injury — just one week after scoring 33 points against UCLA.
She recovered to play in the following season, averaging 8 points and 25 minutes per game. As a junior, she scored 16 points per game in 38 minutes per contest, hitting 87 percent of her free throws and grabbing 5.5 rebounds per night.
As a senior, Molina had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists per game, playing 38 minutes per game with an 86-percent clip from the foul line.
Bucket list destinations
1. Italy. “I always wanted to visit Italy. I heard it’s always beautiful and you never go wrong with Italian food.”
2. Spain. “I have a (former Washington State) teammate that’s playing there now. It would be really cool to link up with her and show me around.”
3. Greece. “My teammate from my freshman year is there, as well.”
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “The Originals” on CW. “They have this on Netflix, too, but they don’t have this in Sweden. We have Netflix, but for some reason it’s not (accessible). ‘The Originals’ is a spin-off to ‘The Vampire Diaries.’ “
2. “The Vampire Diaries.” “But I like “The Originals’ better because they go more into depth about the werewolves, vampires and witches.”
3. Rick and Morty. “They have this on Netflix. My teammate from Washington State got me into it. She’s from Israel, Shir Levy. We’re hanging out and she said, ‘Have you guys ever watched Rick and Morty?’ And from that point I was hooked. It’s about a scientist and his grandson who go on epic adventures in outer space. It’s an Adult Swim show.”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Popcorn, Orville Redenbacher. “As long as it has salt, I don’t care for butter or not. I brought a box with me to Sweden, a 24-pack. I go through a bag every week or so, maybe two.”
2. PBJ sandwich. “I love peanut butter and the combination with jam or jelly with any type of bread, oh, that’s money. I prefer the crunchy peanut butter, and the jam in those French glass containers. I prefer strawberry jam. That’s the go-to pre-game snack. Simple carbs.”
3. Honey Bunches of Oats. “I’m a sucker for cereal. I love cereal with slices of banana in it. Honey Bunches of Oats. I can make my own, get the flakes and the granola and honey, but I haven’t done that yet.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Drake. “My music selection, there’s no one genre. You can never go wrong with Drake.”
2. J Cool. “This is tough, but I’m going with J Cool. No favorite song, but I like the song, ‘Apparently.’ That’s on my pre-game playlist.”
3. Beyonce. “She’s iconic. All her songs are just really good. I have no favorite.”
New life skill
Molina: “In Pullman I would do a lot of cooking for my sisters. Bake, also. It came to a point where they would cook for themselves. I would make loco moco for them. It’s not the same as back in Hawaii, but it’s super simple and they love that. Celena makes good pasta. Cherilyn, what does she make… she makes good breakfast, simple. Pancakes. A while ago, our mom sent us a musubi maker.
Molina: “To Auntie Bobbie (Awa). She texted me yesterday and she didn’t know I was in Sweden until Dawnyelle (Awa) told her. I only told my family and friends. If other people find out, they find out.”