By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Hilo High School’s Aliyah Pana has been named the 2013 Gatorade Hawaii Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
She is the first Viking named to the prestigious honor in the 28 years of the national program, a collaboration of Gatorade with USA Today High School Sports. The announcement was made Thursday.
The award recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence but also high standards of academic and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, according to Gatorade spokesman Joel Beck. It distinguishes Pana as Hawaii’s best girls basketball player this year.
Pana joins an elite alumni association of past state girls basketball award-winners, including Candace Parker (2001-02, Naperville Central HS, Ill.), Diana Taurasi (1998-99 & 1999-2000, Don Antonio HS, Calif.), Maya Moore (2005-06, Collins Hill HS, Ga.) and Lisa Leslie (1988-89, Morningside HS, Calif.).
Pana, a 5-foot-8 junior guard/forward, averaged 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.9 assists per game while leading the young Vikings (24-3) to the state Division I semifinals. A 2013 first team all-tournament selection, she led the D-I players by averaging 20.5 ppg in the state tournament, including a season-high 24 in a 53-49 win over Iolani in the third-place game at Blaisdell Arena in Honolulu.
According to Beck, Pana has maintained a 4.0 grade point average in the class room. She has volunteered locally on behalf of Special Olympics and been a youth basketball coach with the Huiana Internship Program, a work-based learning experience which allows students to explore specific occuaptions and career paths.
“Aliyah is a leader on and off the court,” Hilo High athletic director Sondra Lundvick said. “Not only is she an exceptional athlete and role model, she is also highly organized and detail-oriented. She is very humble and accomplishes everything with great initiative and a very positive attitude.”
Hilo High varsity girls head coach Ben Pana, Aliyah’s father, praised his daughter’s leadership and commitment to team basketball.
“She worked really hard along with her teammates, and that played a big role in her getting this personal accolade,” the Vikings coach said. “She’s been a leader on and off the court. She’s had to learn to organize in the class room, at practice, and in the community. She’s led by example and as a coach and a father, I’m very proud of her.
“Anytime one of our players gets accolades, we’re proud as coaches and it inspires us to work harder to help the team.”
The soft-spoken Aliyah Pana was thrilled with the prestigious award.
“I wouldn’t have been able to win it without my teammates,” she said. “It also shows that all the hard work is paying off for our team.”
This past season was Hilo High’s first state tournament appearance since 1996. And with a young squad — no senior starters, the Vikings may be a strong state title contender next year.
Pana joins previous Hawaii Girls Basketball Player of the Year honorees Dawnyelle Awa (Konawaena HS, 2011-12), Maiki Viela (2010-11, 2009-10, Lahainaluna HS), Kanisha Bello (2008-09, Waiakea HS), Jamie Smith (2007-08, Iolani School) and Shawna-Lei Kuehu (2006-07, Punahou) as previous winners.
In winning the Hawaii award, Pana and all of the other state winners from around the country are eligible for the Gatorade National Player of the Year honor. It will be announced in the near future.
Pana is the daughter of Ben and Heidi Pana. Aliyah and her sister, Alexis, a talented freshman, were standout players this past season for the Vikings.