The project was a promising one with 6-foot-1 Coco Shafer: provide a lot of daily sunshine and watch her grow and shine.
The Hawaii Prep senior never picked up a basketball prior to her freshman year. But four years later, she’s a blooming flower and an All-BIIF Division II first-team selection – more on that Wednesday – the first Ka Makani since Tayler Wang in 2010.
Even better, Shafer signed to play ball with Lewis & Clark, Wang’s old home. The Division III college is in the Northwest Conference, which includes Pacific, a popular gathering place for Hawaii kids.
“I think that getting picked for the D-II first team is a result of the effort I have put in the last four years of my high school career paying off,” she said. “Growing up I really didn’t play many sports other than competing in horseback. I tried tennis and volleyball for a while, but it wasn’t until I started playing basketball that I felt like I found what I wanted to do.
“The summer before my freshman year I got in contact with HPA coach Gig (Craig Kimura), and he offered to help me try out basketball. He put in a lot of time that summer and every summer, helping me learn the basics of the game as well as getting me in shape to play.”
It’s been quite a transformation for Shafer and HPA, which finished 0-10 last season and in 2016.
Under Kimura, who completed his 19th year at HPA, the team went 3-8 and made the BIIF postseason, falling to Honokaa 36-24 in the semifinals. Shafer tallied 11 points and five rebounds.
For the season, Shafer averaged 10.8 points per game on 43 percent shooting, despite defenses sagging on her. She also grabbed 7.1 rebounds and averaged 3.1 blocks per game.
“For four years, she would log in hours of working on her coordination, footwork, and shooting,” Kimura said. “Mechanically, she improved steadily, but her inexperience with playing and knowledge of the game hampered her in translating this to the court under game conditions. This past season things started to change and with the last five games of the BIIF season, she transformed into a force to be concerned about.
“The most impressive part about Coco’s experience with basketball is that with hard work, perseverance, and prioritizing academics and the love of the game, the ability to play at the next level with financial aid is possible regardless of which school you play for.”
Shafer and Lewis & Clark hooked up the old-fashioned way, face to face. The college’s admissions director visited HPA and got Shafer in touch with the Pioneers’ basketball team, which finished 14-12 and lost in the conference semifinals.
There’s no one from Hawaii listed on the roster, but 2015 Kohala graduate Kassie Kometani is a junior on the swimming team. At least, Shafer has someone to hit up for Spam musubi.
“I’m nervous at the idea of playing at a whole new level, but it is also beyond exciting. I can’t wait to start practices and get to know the team in the fall,” Shafer said. “My biggest influences on the basketball court have been my coaches: coach Gig, coach Kevin Ho, coach Rich Matsuda, and coach Adrienne White. They have always stressed a love for the game over a need to win. They not only want us to grow as players, but they want us to grow as people, and that has really shaped and influenced me.”
Shaker also dished an assist to 2015 HPA graduate Anna Juan and four-year teammates Kiele Wise and Emma Saito for being helping hands.
“Kiele and Emma have been playing with me all four years, and we have all grown together and worked to get the wins this season,” Shafer said. “When I was a freshman, Anna helped me.”
Her parents are Timothy Shafer, who works for Aruba Networks, and Catherine Shafer, a Waimea middle school teacher. Shafer, who holds a 3.85 GPA, plans to double major in psychology and economics and hopes to go to law or business school.
“They have always been so supportive of everything that I want to do, and they made sure that I know anything can be accomplished with hard work,” Shafer said. “There were times when I was tired of losing games and tired of weekend practices. But my teammates and coaches kept me going and kept me pushing toward my goals, and I am so glad that I never gave up.”
Editor’s note: The entire all-BIIF Division team will be unveiled in Wednesday’s edition.