Mindy Kawaha joins her sister Mandi Kawaha on the UH-Hilo women’s basketball team, which is undergoing a drastic makeover.
Mindy, a recent Hilo High graduate, is among a recruiting class of seven players new to the 2020-21 roster, which includes the departure of Allie Navarette, the team’s top scorer, who transferred to Metropolitan State in Denver.
The Vulcans also landed Notre Dame de Namur senior transfer Nikki Miller, niece of Hall of Famers Reggie and Cheryl Miller. Miller’s father, Darryl , spent five years in Major League Baseball with the then-California Angels.
UHH coach David Kaneshiro’s recruiting class includes junior college transfers Sierra Cavaletto (Santa Barbara City College) and Kenedi Walters (Cabrillo JC) along with three freshmen: Erica Ingram (El Dorado Hills, Calif.), Kayla Revelo (Vallejo, Calif.), and Noelle Sua-Godinet (Kamehameha-Kapalama).
Like her sister, Mindy is a 5-foot-2 point guard with ball-handling skills and defensive tenacity.
“She’s very quick and plays with a lot of heart, especially on the defensive end of the floor,” Kaneshiro said. “She knows how to handle the ball against pressure. She’s got good poise.”
The scholarship offer from UHH was a best-case scenario for Mindy, who played two years with Mandi at Hilo.
“The possibility of playing in front of the people who mean the most to me would be an honor,” Mindy said. “Mandi has been my biggest inspiration over the last 12 years of my basketball career. Teaming up with her again would be all too familiar.
“It would be interesting to see if the chemistry we developed over the years translate over to the college level.”
The Vulcans will certainly miss Navarette’s scoring ability. The 6-foot forward averaged 19.2 points per game last season but got a low post presence in Miller, who averaged 7.5 points.
The Argonauts, who will shut down their athletics program, went 9-19 last season.
“She reached out to us first,” Kaneshiro said. “We started the recruiting process from there. She only has one year. We knew we needed size and a low post presence. I’m looking forward to seeing her in August.
“She can score in the low post. She’s got good hands. She’s a good athlete and for someone as tall as she is, she’s moves pretty well.”
Unlike her relatives, Miller is a 6-foot center and her game is based in the paint. She doesn’t have the perimeter range of her uncle Reggie or the slashing skills of her aunt Cheryl.
But maybe the team chemistry will be better with Miller, according to Kaneshiro.
“I think she’ll fit in great, not with just the team but Hilo as well,” he said. “She’s got a sweet personality. We need her to flip that switch when she’s on the court. She’s got a great personality.”
The Vulcans also have high hopes for Ingram, a 5-10 forward, who averaged nine points and comes with a winning pedigree. Her Oak Ridge High team finished 24-7 and won the league title.
She was selected to the Optimist All-Star team for top seniors in the Sacramento area.
“She’s physically talented and a good athlete,” Kaneshiro said. “Wherever we play her at forward or wing, it’s nice to have her for four years.”
When Mindy signed there was a lot of good-natured family ribbing going on. It was her Vikings coach and uncle, Cliff Kawaha, who got the first cracks in.
“Like always, he was cracking jokes saying, ‘Wow, the coach likes you even with your height?’ But I know he’s proud of his short niece,” Mindy said. “My sister’s reaction was ‘We might be arguing a bit.’ But she was happy to play another two years with me again.
“She has the ability to make others around her better, and she has great court vision. She pushes me to get and be better.”
The best way to compensate for Navarette’s loss of point production is to be more efficient with the ball.
UHH was eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio in the PacWest. Mindy’s addition can only strengthen the ball-handling.
And she doesn’t need to look far to find a role model.
“My biggest motivation is my sister. She’s also short but still made it at the college level, and she’s progressing every year,” Mindy said. “My willingness to work hard and dedication to the game will help me make my mark at the college level.”
When she’s finally in a Vulcans uniform, Mindy knows it’ll be a proud parent moment.
“My mom, Kathy Kawaha, is a single parent, but my stepdad, Harry Pagan, was a father figure since I started playing basketball at 6 years old,” Mindy said. “They are thrilled that my sister and I are playing college basketball. But they are more stoked to watch us play for the same school and watch us go to work at our games.
“The best thing about signing is having the opportunity to play at the next level here in my hometown and having to meet new girls that will become family.”