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For Kanekoa, it’s never about the stats

Brian McInnis
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Seniors Keisha Kanekoa, left, Allie Patterson, Julita Bungaite, Megan Tinnin, and Mai Ayabe will play their last home game today against San Jose State.

Keisha Kanekoa pays no mind to the statistics, good or bad. Never has.

Playing basketball was never about the stats. No, it was about that intangible feeling the point guard got during close games, or when she whipped a no-look pass into the hands of a teammate on the fast break.

"That adrenaline," confirmed the four-year starter for the Hawaii women’s basketball team. "Games are tight, you kind of want the ball in your hand and you feed off of that energy. For me, I’d rather have a great pass than a game-winning shot. I’m more of a person who likes to set my team up for success, my players up for success, rather than me being successful."

But successful she has been, in ways that go beyond the record of the Rainbow Wahine (10-18, 4-11) just a week removed from Kanekoa’s final Western Athletic Conference tournament.

The Honokaa High product will sense that rush in the Stan Sheriff Center for the last time tonight. Kanekoa is one of five Wahine players who will be honored with senior night ceremonies after UH plays Utah State in the regular-season finale at 7 p.m.

Shooting guard Megan Tinnin, forwards Allie Patterson and Julita Bungaite and backup point guard Mai Ayabe are the others.

None are quite as decorated as Kanekoa, who leaves a legacy of top-10 placements in the UH career records: She is eighth in scoring (1,177 points), third in assists (372), fourth in minutes (3,386), seventh in games played (115), and eighth in free-throw percentage (.781).


» Who: Utah State (15-12, 9-5 WAC) at Hawaii (10-18, 4-11)

» When: 7 p.m. today


» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM


AND, OF COURSE, there are the turnovers, of which she owns 466 after four years of heavy minutes in up-and-down offensive systems.

What the stats don’t show is her leadership in close-game situations and her several game-winning shots, most recently one over San Jose State last week that all but clinched a WAC tourney berth for Hawaii.

"I had to learn quick," Kanekoa said with a snap of the finger, "and they put me into battle right away. My four years here, I’ve put in a lot of time and work. I guess it shows on paper. But it’s definitely something, humbling accomplishments. I guess I’ll enjoy."

Much was expected of Kanekoa when she came over from the Big Island and entered the program under Jim Bolla in 2007, fresh off a stellar career at remote Honokaa in which she guided the Dragons to three straight third-place finishes in the Division I state tournament. Twice she was named the tourney MVP.

In Manoa she was thrust into a starting role almost immediately, which came with a whole new set of demands for the shy Kanekoa: media attention.

Second-year UH coach Dana Takahara-Dias, who first coached Kanekoa with the Team Aloha all-star squad, laughs about how far the still-humble Kanekoa has come in that aspect.

"She’s gained many, many strides, specifically as a young woman," Takahara-Dias said. "She’s really developed into a well-rounded individual. She came shy, very quiet, didn’t want to speak. Now you can’t shut her up. Just kidding. No, she epitomizes Wahine basketball. She’s a local girl done good. A role model for many local kids."

Nowhere is that more pronounced than in her hometown, where she is something of a folk hero.

Kanekoa’s former coach at Honokaa, Daphne Honma, has stayed in touch with Kanekoa from the time the ambitious youngster was a varsity team manager for Honma in the sixth grade, anxious to learn anything and everything about the game.

"She comes home every so often and everybody knows who she is," Honma said. "When (UH) came to Hilo, everybody wanted to see her play. When they’re on KFVE, everybody’s watching the game. She’s pretty much the top of the town when she’s playing on TV and everything.

"She still has a special place in my heart because of the type of kid that she is, and the type of player that she is."

Tinnin has been through many ups and downs alongside her fellow co-captain over the past four years, highlighted by their perseverance through a coaching change from Bolla to Takahara-Dias. Tinnin was blown away by the packed crowds that showed up at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo when the Wahine played two nonconference games there this season.

"I swear the whole island was there," Tinnin said. "Just to see how many people looked up to Keisha, being from Hawaii and playing for the local university, specifically here I think a lot of young kids look up to that. I think she’s a great role model to look up to."

Kaneokoa will be the first member of her family to get a college degree.

"From the first day I stepped on campus to almost being done, I’ve matured a lot as a person," Kanekoa said. "Coming from a small town, I mean, just coming to Oahu is such a huge step. It’s been nice. There were some rough times, but glad I made it through it."


Megan Tinnin, 5-10 guard from Albuquerque, N.M.
» business degree this spring
» dad attending
» future plans: play professionally or work in father’s real estate business
» closing comments: "This place has treated me good, so it’ll be sad to say goodbye. … Senior night was definitely something my mom (Jamie, who died of cancer in 2009) wished she could have been here for, but I think because I know how much she wanted to be here, it’s more of me coming out and playing for her. Just kind of finishing what she wanted me to finish here, and finishing on a good note in honor of her."

Allie Patterson, 6-1 forward from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
» sociology/criminology degree this spring
» parents, grandparents and aunt attending
» future plans: attend police academy in Ontario, Calif.
» closing comments: "I’ve been watching senior night for four years now and I just couldn’t wait. I’m definitely going to cry. There’s no doubt about that. I cry every year. I just don’t know when that moment’s going to happen; probably when they start playing the Iz (Kamakawiwo’ole) music. That’s going to do it. The memories, it’s all the little things. Us in the locker room together, the little relationships between everybody. That’s what you remember. … I couldn’t ask for a better group of seniors."

Keisha Kanekoa, 5-6 guard from Honokaa
» family resources degree this fall
» about 15 family/friends from Big Island are here
» future plans: play pro ball overseas or do social work
» closing comments: "(Senior night) means a lot. It kind of scares me because it’s my last game playing in the Stan Sheriff. Gonna try to enjoy the moment, go out there and play hard and leave it all out on the court. Try not to think about it. … I’d like to end the season with a couple good wins."

Mai Ayabe, 5-4 guard from Fukuoka, Japan
» wellness and health degree this spring
» mom and aunt from Japan attending
» future plans: will stay on work visa probably in Hawaii
» closing comments: "I always wanted to play here. I attended senior nights (in the past) and I didn’t expect to (be in one). I’m pretty excited. But at the same time, it’s sad. I’m not going to be able to play here anymore. It was my dream to play basketball at a university in America. And I actually did it."

Julita Bungaite, 6-2 forward from Vilnius, Lithuania
» sociology degree this spring
» some friends attending
» future plans: return to Lithuania, play professionally in Europe or coach
» closing comments: "I’m excited and kind of sad at the same time. I’m going to miss this team and Hawaii. I grew up as an athlete, as a person, too, I think. I’m so far away from my family, so I had to take care of myself. It’s a little bit different than playing in Europe. When I first came here it was kind of hard, but just a couple more months and I was good to go."


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