In this edition of What Have We Learned, the beginning of basketball preseason is on the mantle. Or maybe it is an altar of sacrifice, because Lord only knows the time, energy and hope that were shed in the recruitment of the magical, clutch and amazing basketball player known as Chanelle Molina.
Turns out that Konawaena senior and walking triple-double threat has known for a year what she wanted. For Washington State, it is a stunningly good time to have a pipeline to Kealakekua. Molina’s Konawaena squad swept through the recent Ted Fukushima Invitational girls basketball tournament over the weekend at Kaiser High School, routing ‘Iolani, Kaiser and Punahou.
On Nov. 12, Molina signed with Washington State, where former Konawaena standouts Lia Galdeira and Dawnyelle Awa went after illustrious prep careers. Galdeira left the Cougars after her junior year and is now playing professional basketball. Awa led WSU over Hawaii on Sunday at Stan Sheriff Center. Now, Molina follows their trail. And she says she made up her mind a year ago after an official visit to the Pullman, Wash. campus.
“I knew that was the college I wanted to go to,” Molina said. “A lot of people wanted me to go to UH, but I kind of wanted to get away from Hawaii, go to the mainland and experience something different.”
Pullman is a country town. Isolated. A college town as much as a rural one. Galdeira and Awa laid a fine foundation and blueprint for Molina, a two-time all-state player of the year, to follow. When Awa graduates, Molina will step in as the Cougars’ point guard.
“I’m taking her spot. I’m taking her number,” Molina said, pointing to the 11 on her jersey, the same number that Awa has worn for four seasons as a Cougar.
That’s three out of the last three Division I college recruits out of Coach Bobbie Awa’s dynastic program going from up mauka to Pullman. There have been a string of Wildcats who went on to college hoops, going back to Awa (HPC, now HPU) and much more often since she took over as a coach. Jessica Hanato. Jazzmin Awa-Williams. Nancy Hoist. Mana Hopkins. On and on.
Meanwhile, from an island point of view — especially for those of us who have been fans of the UH program since way back, since the Vince Goo-Judy Mosley-Ayesha Brooks-Lynette Liu-Melissa Barker stretch in the 1980s when the Wahine became a powerhouse in the Big West — it doesn’t quite make sense. UH is on statewide TV, playing in a beautiful facility. The market is and has almost always been there. During Nani Cockett’s career, the Rainbow Wahine drew crowds to the arena — more than 6,000 for Cockett’s finale.
UH’s first loss of the season after three wins were muddied by more than 20 turnovers. Would Molina help solve this issue for the Wahine? Mmm-hmm.
But the roots of this ongoing mystery — of why top local players depart rather than stay home — goes back to the regime before Laura Beeman arrived at Manoa. Dana Takahara-Dias was unable to land Galdeira and Awa. Prior to that, the men’s program had trouble corralling arguably the best prep player in boys basketball history here, Derrick Low. Now in the midst of a pro career overseas, Low was the first island hoopster to venture to Washington State.
Beeman is clearly an outstanding coach (Big West 2014-15 COY) who recruits well. Her pipeline to California remains active and productive. Molina got a scholarship offer from Beeman as a sophomore. Coach did her homework, for sure.
And yet, Molina says her top three choices were Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State, not necessarily in that order, obviously. That’s out of an offer list of “two dozen” schools, she said.
>> Pac-12 Conference
There’s no denying that the Big West is not the Pac-12, and when Molina says the words, “Pac-12”, they just sound different. Her parents and family, Molina adds, can always turn on the TV to see her play.
“That was a must. It had to be Pac-12,” she said.
For UH fans, this is not good. Not ever good. Never good. We wanted to be in the Pac-12. Still do. Not happening. Out of Coach Beeman’s control.
Low’s father, Kenny Low, happened to pass by as I sat in a mall the other night. We chatted for a few seconds, a few minutes, then several minutes. One of the plus-points for Pullman is that there is a small community of transplanted Hawaii folks there. They get together, make snacks (Spam musubi) and make island student transplants feel at home as often as they can. It’s not a serious recruiting ingredient, but it doesn’t hurt, does it?
>> Laura B’s extension
In the minds and hearts of Rainbow Wahine fans, she gets to coach here as long as she wants. She got a three-year extension last year. In reality, she could be here 20 years or just one more year. There’s no way to know right now. Overqualified for UH? Those are pretty strong words, but they’re true. Beeman could take over any program in the Pac-12, and probably anywhere in the country, and make it competitive, turn it into a title contender. Then again, she could have left by now. She didn’t, pulling out of the Utah job search in April after reportedly becoming a finalist. (The Utah position pays roughly double what the UH salary is.)
I know this is basically unreasonable, but if a player wants to play for Beeman, and for whatever reason, Beeman leaves for another university, that player could transfer, too. Sure, there’s that one year of sitting out per NCAA transfer rules. So what? That’s a year worth investing, to simply work out, be a student. Any pro ambitions aren’t completely hindered; Galdeira left Wazzu after three seasons.
But Beeman signed an extension. She plans on staying.
All of this had to grate on Beeman and her staff as WSU came into Stan Sheriff Arena and beat UH on Sunday. With Awa making it look easy. Five steals. Layup after layup. Slick passes. Effortless. Molina is more athletic than Awa was as a high school athlete. Almost as explosive as Galdeira. Almost, almost a hybrid of the two. A willingness and, my opinion, an enjoyment in delivering passes to open teammates. That’s what she has, as well as a knowledge of the game that goes beyond playing one position. She’s at ease spotting up for open threes and running business through the high post. She is positionless and yet the hub of so much in the Konawaena offense.
Fear not, Wahine fans. We will have our talent to watch as Beeman channels her passion and immense knowledge through her players. She will continue to recruit well. It just would’ve been nice, more than nice, to see Molina’s skills on display in Manoa for four seasons.
Beeman, to her credit, moves on quickly. Per NCAA rules, college coaches cannot comment on high school student-athletes, but there hasn’t been a trickle of noise regarding Molina. Not even the tiniest splash. But after playing nice and inviting WSU to the Rainbow Wahine Classic in recent years, it would surprising to see the Cougars back. I wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t blame Beeman for shunning the team in maroon from this point on. It hasn’t done the Wahine any real good, not in recruiting battles past and present.
Come to Pullman, play in the Pac-12. We’ll even play in Hawaii a couple of times before you graduate.
The Cougars probably don’t care either way at this point. Galdeira opting to leave WSU in July for a pro paycheck in Europe opened eyes from Eastern Washington to the middle of the Pacific. It also serves as a template that any aspiring professional might want to track.
Remote? Kenny Low remembers Pullman very well. If the main road into the town is closed (snow, anyone?), the alternate route is a 4.5-hour trek around the other side. Europe? Cockett played there as a pro, including a stint in Israel. Galdeira could (and should) still play for the U.S. national team at some point. Wherever those dreams take her, she’s grown up and pursuing the next leg of that great path.
Molina is still here, with sisters Celena Jane and Cherilyn (both played outstanding basketball at the Kaiser tourney), Ihi Victor and a few other teammates. She’s got a couple of months of basketball ahead before moving on to the next stop.
“It’s amazing,” Low said. “How a small place on the edge of the Big Island produces so much basketball talent.”
My suggestion: Enjoy watching the defending state champions play together as often as you can. Konawaena will be in Honolulu for the ‘Iolani Classic next week.