(Here’s the extended version of today’s feature story on Punahou basketball standout Hailey-Ann Maeda.)
No, she was not named after a celestial object consisting of ice and dust.
In fact, Nelson and Jodi-Ann Maeda weren’t even sure, as she grew and grew for nine months in the womb, whether their first child would be a girl or a boy. Modern technology just couldn’t say.
But the day finally came, and two weeks after her birth, she became Hailey-Ann. She became a cerebral bundle of joy, full of questions, which was fine for Nelson, a teacher by trade and longtime football coach at Castle. Her path was winding and sometimes thorny. Ultimately, she found solace, not in the twists and turns of life, but in the classroom. In the books that made her world more than just tolerable.
In books, in Shakespeare, she found peace. Irony. Comedy. The whimsical allure is within her, too. As a hawker of sorts, the Punahou senior is part of the school carnival’s hour-long show this weekend, three shows per night for two nights. She’s one of about 300 seniors living out the unique ecosystem that is Punahou life.
“I try to bring people to watch this (actor). It’s fun, definitely,” said Maeda, who has a 3.6 grade-point average.
It’s only fitting that a young woman who was a mystery to her doctor and parents until birth would recognize “Twelfth Night” as a favorite of comedies. In The Twelfth, Viola is in love with Orsino, who is in love with Olivia. But Viola becomes shipwrecked and is forced to masquerade as a man under the name Cesario. Orsino, unable to identify Viola as Cesario, eventually has “him” deliver a declaration of love to Olivia. The twist? Olivia, mistaking Cesario for a man, falls in love with the messenger.
It’s enough to make lovers of the great bard cackle. Most of the time, there’s less comedy and confusion on the hardwood. In basketball, Maeda is a willing center of the hardwood universe, the one low-post scorer at Punahou who is thoroughly effect with either hand, able to swish a streamlined mid-range jumper quickly. At 5-foot-10, her game is better suited to a 4, or power forward.
“Basketball is something I’ve always loved. I don’t know what I’d do without basketball,” she said.
For Punahou (15-2 overall), her ability to score and rebound in double digits is a major reason why the Buffanblu overcame a sluggish start to win the Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship. She hustled for 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in a pivotal win over Mid-Pacific two weeks ago, then followed that with a 15-point effort in a title-clinching win over ‘Iolani. Now the state tourney awaits; Punahou will begin play on Wednesday.
Maeda’s superb performances were welcomed by Coach Mike Taylor, who has pushed Maeda to expand her range, even to the point of shooting 3-pointers in transition.
“Hailey has always been a silent assassin when it came to communicating on court with her teammates in years past,” Taylor said. “A few words here and there really made everyone stop and really pay attention because what she said was very important and to the point.”
The Buffanblu are a collection of agile, forward-thinking intellects. That’s not the surprise. What has always been a bit of mystery, though, is how Taylor has extracted maximum effort from his teams over the past 10 seasons. If there were two words that would coin every one of his teams — most of which competed for or won state titles — it would be this: “human bruise.”
They hit the floor, dive for loose balls and take all the punishment necessary — and inflict their share — to gain an edge. Ferocity.
You just won’t see it off the court. Maeda likes math, loves English, of course. She’s endured a change of schools in mid-stream, moving from ‘Iolani to Punahou before her sophomore year. For the Maeda family, with three children and one source of income — dad’s teaching job at Castle — tuition at ‘Iolani had become out of reach. She transferred, sat out basketball season as a sophomore, then made her debut as a Buffanblu last season. This year, she is an anchor, a “rock” in the eyes of Taylor.
“I knew she was a talented and hard working player on the court from watching her play and work out at clinic (Kalakaua),” he said. “She does so much for the team that goes unnoticed by many, but not so to her coaches and teammates. She’s such a great person who cares so much about her teammates and coaches; a very selfless student athlete.”
Taylor, an elementary school teacher at Punahou, has thought about his center and her leadership skills.
“She handles adverse situations with such a mature attitude and handles success with such humbleness. To see someone that young handle things with such a clear, focused mind, is inspiring,” he said.
“He’s a really good coach.,” Maeda said. “He always wants us to play tough, to play with fundamentals.”
It was nearly a decade ago, in 2002, when her mom, Jodi, died of cancer. Before passing on, Jodi insisted that Nelson continue coaching. Life moved on and the Maeda kids were a fixture, tagging along with their dad after games and practices. Hailey-Ann was 8 then, the oldest of the three.
“I think she would be happy to see I’m at Punahou and doing what’s fun, playing basketball and having friends, being the best person she thinks I can be,” Hailey-Ann said. “When I was 8, it was hard to lose my mom, but my dad and my grandma and my uncle were a good support for me. Somehow, the transition just happened. One day, you stop being so sad and depressed. You just live life more.”
Over the years, she’s grown to admire her father.
“My dad has always been so humble. He’s not one of those parents telling their child what to do on the court. He believes that the coach is the one who coaches the player, not the parent,” she said.
The alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday. By 6:30, dad has dropped his daughter off at Punahou. The Buffanblu have a 7 a.m. practice, ending early enough for senior players to make it to rehearsal for the Carnival show. By mid-day, she’s done with two loves, basketball and theater, hungry and a little tired.
Before the stage show, Maeda takes the court for the state championships.
“I’m excited. I want to play already. I just can’t wait,” she said. “I’m a senior. I realized this is my last two or three games left. It’s going to be a big emotional journey for me. There’s Mysha (Sataraka), Jenny (Ching), Julia (Brand), there’s all of us who can shoot. We’ll utilize everyone’s talent.”
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser