By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The University of Hawaii at Hilo women’s basketball program got a recruiting boost on Wednesday with the signing of former Waiakea High School all-state standout Kamie Imai.
Vulcans coach David Kaneshiro announced Imai’s addition to his offseason recruiting and believes the incoming 5-foot-8 junior could play a key role in his team’s success during the 2012-13 season. Imai played a reserve role in her first two years at NCAA Division I Utah State before deciding to transfer to D-II UHH and accepting a scholarship. Since Utah State granted her a release, she’s eligible to play right away.
“We are really excited to have Kamie play for us,” Kaneshiro said. “Her basketball resume speaks for itself. She is athletic and versatile, and can score in a variety of ways. She can also play two or three positions.
“She brings a lot of experience having competed at the Division I level for the last couple of seasons. In addition to that experience, she is a hard worker, intense competitor, and has a strong passion for the game of basketball.”
Last year at Utah State, Imai saw limited action as the Aggies finished with a 21-10 record and qualified for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. But after the season, she decided to move back to the Big Island and play at UHH. Her older sister, Kirsty, a 5-4 guard, is a three-year player for the Vulcans and will be a senior next season.
As a basketball standout at Waiakea, Kamie Imai was named to the All-Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I first team during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons as well as the D-I Player of the Year in 2008 and 2010. She was named to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Fab 15 all-state squad in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and was inducted into the 2010 Hawaii High School Athletic Association Hall of Honor.
On the national level, Imai was a 2010 McDonald’s All-American semifinalist as well as an ESPN 2010 Nationally Ranked Player.
“Kamie is definitely one of the best players to come out of the Big Island and the state in recent years,” Kaneshiro said.
Imai played under coach Grant Kauhi during her four-year career at Waiakea. She was also an All-BIIF softball player for coach Bo Saiki.
Imai joins 5-10 forward Jazzmyn Davis of Pacoima, Calif., and 5-11 forward Briana Smythe of Winnetka, Calif., in Kaneshiro’s 2012-13 recruiting class. The third-year coach may add one more player to the mix as the Vulcans gear up for the upcoming season.
Kaneshiro has 13 returnees from his 2011-12 team that finished with 14-12 record, including a program-best 11-7 mark in the Pacific West Conference. The Vulcans’ biggest loss is 6-2 senior Hillary Hurley, a two-time All-PacWest first team selection.
“We’re hoping to be competitive again in conference this coming year,” Kaneshiro said. “We’ve had a solid spring with the returnees working hard. They seem motivated and if all of the returnees can return as better players with the addition of the recruits, we should have a chance to do well.”