On Scholarship: Hilo’s Aliyah Pana signs with Vulcans


Aliyah Pana had an all-around basketball skill-set fit for the next level, but she wasn’t ready to leave home.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo had a scholarship spot to fill.

Neither had to go far to find what they wanted.

The Vulcans made Pana their lone signed recruit for 2014 after the recent Hilo High graduate opted to stay on the Big Island and turned down a handful of offers from Division III and junior colleges on the West Coast.

“Growing up, I wanted to leave,” Pana said, “but I wasn’t ready yet. I need a transition.”

Playing alongside younger sister Alexis under father/coach Ben Pana, Aliyah Pana helped rejuvenate Lady Vikings basketball.

Hilo ended a 17-year Hawaii High School Athletic Association drought in 2013, and the 5-foot-9 Pana averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists last season as the Vikings once again finished in the top four in the state as the Big Island Interscholastic Federation runner-up.

“UH-H likes that I can play inside and outside,” said Pana, whose scholarship covers tuition and books. “I’m just going to come in and work hard.”

When asked about the development of her game going forward, Pana paused.

Ben Pana did not.

“The biggest improvement is to work on speed of the game,” said Ben Pana, who likes his teams to play at an up-tempo pace. “The speed at the college level is so much quicker than at the high school level.”

Aliyah Pana was a do-it-all player in high school, and Vulcans coach David Kaneshiro was searching for one after the graduation of Kamie Imai, who was second on the team in scoring and the leader in rebounds and assists.

Kaneshiro projected Pana as a perimeter player, likely either at shooting guard or small forward.

“I like a lot of things about her,” Kaneshiro said. “She’s versatile, she’s a hard worker, a smart player and was a leader for her team. She can do a lot of positive things for us.”

While the majority of his recruits have been two-year players, Kaneshiro said he’d like to strike a balance between recruiting junior college and high school players.

“It’s a year-to-year situation,” he said. “Compared to the schools on the West Coast, we don’t have as large of a pool.

“We don’t shut the door on anyone, but if it’s Hilo homegrown, all the better.”

The Vulcans are coming off a 9-16 campaign in which they advanced to the Pacific West Conference postseason for the second consecutive season.

Besides the loss of Imai, Kaneshiro said he expects last year’s team to return intact.

Could a senior-laden squad develop strong chemistry?

“The names are the same,” he said. “I don’t think as a coach you can assume that things are going to stay the same.

“Maybe we come together a little quicker as everybody understands what we’re trying to do, but you can’t skip steps.”