By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
As former University of Hawaii standout Nani Cockett talked to University of Hawaii at Hilo coach David Kaneshiro after an exhibition basketball game on Saturday night, you could see them share a warm smile and twinkle in their eyes — and for different but important reasons to both.
For Cockett, an incredible prep player out of Kamehameha Schools on Oahu and a four-year star with the Rainbow Wahine, it’s her time to take a step back and let the younger players on her D. One basketball team handle most of the minutes in their annual exhibition games against Hawaii’s small-college teams.
Cockett spent Saturday evening coaching D. One, a team of former collegiate players from Hawaii, as it battled Kaneshiro’s young Vulcans before a small-but-appreciative crowd at the UHH Gym. The Vuls built a 29-20 halftime lead and held on to beat Cockett’s cagers 54-51, but it was the challenges within the game and what D. One provided UHH that left a positive impression on Kaneshiro.
For Kaneshiro, the chance to play D. One is about the present, getting his players ready for the Pacific West Conference season and trying to help his squad fulfill its potential.
“We saw some good things that we did tonight and we saw some things that we need to work on,” the third-year UHH women’s coach said. “We’re going to be able to take away some things from this game that will help us later on in the season. D. One had good size in the post with Brandy Richardson and Jamie Smith and we had to try to make defensive adjustments.
“We’re going to face those types of challenges when we play Grand Canyon or Dixie State, or some of the other PacWest teams that have size in the post. If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to be able to guard those areas and get a lot of help-side defense. Tonight, I thought we kept our defensive intensity level up and that helped us out.”
Richardson, a former all-state player out of Kalaheo High School on Oahu and ex-UC Santa Barbara star, and Smith, a former Iolani School and UNLV standout, combined for 35 of D. One’s 51 points and 26 of their 41 rebounds in the close loss to UHH. The 6-0 Richardson muscled her way inside for nine points and ripped down 12 rebounds; the 6-1 Smith scored a game-high 26 points, including three 3-pointers, while playing inside and out. She also had a game-high 14 rebounds.
“We tried to get them the ball inside every chance we could,” Cockett said. “But UH-Hilo is a scrappy team and you can see they have good potential. They’ve added some nice new additions and Kamie Imai is a good Division I transfer who will help them.
“I like the way they play and if they shoot the ball like they did at times tonight, they’re going to challenge a lot of the teams in their conference.”
With 30-something Cockett sitting out and coaching, she had only six players available, and conditioning easily favored the younger Vulcans. But D. One used its experience, played hard and answered almost every challenge during the 40-minute contest.
Guards Nikki Fu (Maryknoll High School, Concordia University) and Cat Cho (UH-Manoa) added nine and seven points, respectively, while teammates Shanna Dacanay (Punahou, Washington University) and Brittney Aiwohi (UH-Manoa) logged solid minutes without scoring. The quick Dacanay had three assists and three rebounds while trying to find the high-scoring Smith or aggressive Richardson in the paint.
“This game is for us to help them,” Cockett said, referring to the Vulcans. “It’s a way for us to give back to the game and help the Hawaii teams and players. This is well worth our time and money to come over here and play.
“We’re going through a transition right now, from one generation of players to the next. We’ve added Jamie, Nikki and Brittney, and it’s time for me to step aside and let the younger players play. I can’t play this game forever, so it’s good to share it with the young players who will be giving back.”
D. One played against Chaminade last week and won by 25 points. Crockett didn’t play in that game either.
“I gave my uniform to a young player and I’ve told the girls if they need me to play, I’ll come in and play a few minutes for them,” Cockett said. “But it’s time to give someone else the chance and at the same time we’re helping the other young women in Hawaii who are playing at the collegiate level.”
Senior forward Shannon Rousseau led the Vulcans with nine points. Kamie Imai, a 5-9 guard, had eight points, point guard Kirsten Shimizu seven, and senior guard Kirsty Imai and junior-college transfer Briana Smythe each added six points. Junior forward Jazzmyn Davis had a team-high 10 rebounds as UHH outrebounded D. One 42-41.
“We have a long ways to go, on offensive execution and defense,” Kaneshiro said. “We made some shots tonight and at times moved the ball really well, especially in transition. We’re going to look to push the ball more this year, open it up a little more.
“It was good to play a lot of people tonight and we saw some good things from a lot of them. Now, we’ve just got to keep working hard to get better. Tonight was a good start.”
The Vulcans shot 38 percent (22 of 58) from the field, 31 percent (4 of 13) from 3-point range and 75 percent (6 of 8) on free throws. D. One hit 28 percent (15 of 53) from the floor, 15 percent (3 of 20) on treys and 67 percent (18 of 27) from the line.
UHH also had 10 assists, 17 turnovers, 1 blocked shot and 11 steals compared to D. One’s 9, 17, 2 and 7, respectively.
Ex-Honokaa and University of Hawaii standout Keisha Kanekoa is on the D. One roster but did not travel to play in Friday’s game.
The Vulcans open their 2012-13 collegiate season in hosting Chaminade University in a preseason game Nov. 17 at the UHH Gym.
UHH then plays in the four-team Oahu Classic, taking on Minnesota State University Moorhead at 6 p.m. Nov. 22 and Shippenburg University at 4 p.m. Nov. 23 with both games at the McKinley High School Gym in Honolulu.
The Vulcans close their Oahu road trip with a preseason contest against Hawaii Pacific University on Nov. 24. The game’s starting time has not been announced.
At UHH Gym
D.One 20 31 — 51
UHH 29 25 — 54