Recent Keaau graduate Jacy Pagala always makes precious use of her time — a good habit she picked up from her days playing two sports during the same season while maintaining a shining grade point average.
Her time management skills will come in handy when she hits the court with Arizona Western College’s basketball team, which offered her a scholarship. The 5-foot-2 point guard is on the hook for room and board — a $6,000 price tag.
The junior college is the former home of Kamehameha-Hawaii graduate Kelii Kekuewa, who now plays for Ohio’s Bowling Green on a football scholarship. His dad, Bruce Kekuewa, got the recruiting ball rolling to help Pagala land a deal that covers her $7,500 tuition.
Recent Kamehameha graduate Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy and Waiakea graduate Isaiah Correa will also attend AWC on football scholarships. There are no Hawaii players on the basketball team, which lost in the JUCO Region I final and finished with a 26-5 record last year.
After talking to Kekuewa, Matadors coach Patrick Cunningham saw Pagala’s video on YouTube, which is becoming a popular recruiting tool for interested coaches.
“(Cunningham) said if he ever gets money he would help me,” Pagala said. “His ball-handler got a full ride to a Division I school, and he had leftover money. He was looking for a primary ball-handler. That was my role at Keaau.
“It’s good to get off the island for a while, and see how the play is up there. And it’s good to continue playing.”
The play up there is serious stuff because the Matadors have become accustomed to nothing but success during Cunningham’s 13-year tenure. They’ve won the conference title four times, reached the Region I final seven times and advanced to the national JUCO championships in 2002.
AWC’s last four teams were named National Junior College Athletic Association All-Academic, holding a cumulative GPA of more than 3.0. That’s familiar territory for Pagala, who graduated with a 3.9 GPA.
Pagala, who’ll major in fire science with aspirations to be a paramedic, played basketball and soccer during the winter season at Keaau, splitting time between two practices and extending the hours in an already long day.
“Time management was the hardest thing. What helped me was a lot of my coaches let me manage my time and were understanding about it,” she said. “It taught me you have to be committed. You can’t be fooling around. A lot of homework I did in school. It was not too bad once I came home.”
Pagala logged more hours than a dam-building beaver.
She arrived at school at 6:30 a.m. to lift weights and got home around 9 p.m. or much later if there was a weekday night game. Games on interminable Saturdays also improved her time management skills, especially when it came to hitting the books.
“My parents, (Jun and Brandi), and grandparents always pushed me to do well in academics first. Even Aunty Iris (McGuire, the Keaau athletic director) supported that — school before sports,” Pagala said. “My parents set a high standard. They always wanted me to get a 4.0. They would question me if I didn’t get an A. They made sure I got on it.
“They would tell me to keep up with my grades and work hard. Nothing comes easy. At times, it got hard, but the majority of the time I got used to it. I spent my whole high school career getting used to the fact I had double practices. Especially for Christmas break, we would practice in the morning and afternoon.”
Pagala’s senior year was also emotional for the close-knit Cougars following the deaths of good friend Makaala Lum Ho and basketball coach Wayne Kawaha, the father and assistant to his son, Keaau head coach Mark Kawaha.
“Makaala was the son of one of our coaches, and he was always around us. He was a year younger and played for the boys basketball team,” Pagala said. “That’s the reason I wore No. 21. That was his number last year.
“There was sadness the whole year, but it helped me motivate myself. Maka and coach Wayne loved the game of basketball. It would have been bad if I gave up. I knew they wouldn’t be proud of something like that.”
Looking back, Pagala appreciates the time she had with coach Wayne. When she shoots the ball at AWC, his words will forever ring in her ears.
“Coach Wayne coached me since the sixth grade. He coached me throughout high school. He had the biggest impact on me,” she said. “I grew up being a more defensive player. He would always tell me to just shoot. You never know if it’s going in. Anything can happen. The ball will go in the more attempts you take. After the season, I found that to be true.”