Saturday | July 22, 2017
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UHH women’s basketball team reels in BYU-Hawaii’s top scorer

College basketball coaches are known to go around the world to secure available talent, and the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s women’s basketball team appears to have benefited in a big way from that sort of effort by coach David Kaneshiro.

Appears would be the key word in all of that, because while Kaneshiro recently secured the transfer of senior wing Safia Sheikh, the ninth-leading scorer (15.1) in the PacWest Conference last year, he didn’t have to leave Hilo to work out the details of the talented player from Denmark.

Sheikh was a leader on the BYU-Hawaii team last year, but was left without a place to play after the school closed down its athletics department. Kaneshiro waited until after the season, contacted coach Craig Stanger and was able to discuss possibilities with Sheikh.

“All things considered, it went pretty smoothly and really quickly, looking back on it,” Kaneshiro said. “After I talked to coach Stanger, (Sheikh) reached out to me and we did it all by email with some face time in there.”

The issue for Sheikh was academics. She is a psychology major and wanted to finish her final year at a school that matched her previous work with what she needed to graduate.

UH Hilo provided the academic match.

“Yes, academics were the thing that could have kept us apart,” Sheikh wrote in an email from Denmark, “but I did find really good matches for my psychology major at UHH. I primarily study psychology not only because it is interesting but because I want to be able to help other people.

“After my senior year I will definitely be going for my Masters somewhere,” she wrote.

By any measure, Sheikh would be the biggest catch in Kaneshiro’s offseason pursuits, though five others will arrive in addition to blend in with five returning players.

The holdover players include last year’s leading scorer (14.6), wing Kim Schmelz, sophomore guard Amber Vaughn (2.6 points per game), and three post players, Patience Taylor (5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds), Jamaika Lorenzo (1.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg) and Asia Smith (7.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg).

Combined, those five accounted for 32.2 points per game, or about 56 percent of last year’s scoring on an 8-15 team. Led by Smith and Taylor, the returnees accounted for 51 percent of the rebounds last year, but there are noteworthy qualifications in each of those stat totals.

The scoring power of 56 percent is connected to the lowest scoring team (57.5), in the PacWest last year. The rebounding numbers are skewed by the fact that Taylor had a thumb injury that kept her out of 11 of the team’s 23 games.

Fair to say all the newcomers will have a chance to contribute.

“You always feel a little unsure about how everyone fits in until they at least get here and we have a chance to work together,” Kaneshiro said, “but it looks like we will have some quickness at the point with Sara (Shimizu), and Allysa (Moychan), along with Amber, who is pretty quick and got some good experience (as a freshman) last year.”

The five other newcomers are:

• Sara Shimizu (McClatchy High School, Sacramento), a 5-3 guard who averaged 8 points, 3 assists and 3 steals per game.

• Danielle DaCosta (Sierra College, Rocklin, Calif.), a 5-10 guard who started 17 games, average 4.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. She was voted the team’s top defensive player on two occasions.

• Alyssa Movchan (Cypress College, Cypress, Calif.), a 5-2 guard that averaged 10.5 points a game, and added 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game and was a first team all-conference selection.

• Malia Lee (Calvary Chapel Christian High School, Las Vegas), a 6-0 wing/post player who averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds and earned first team all-conference recognition.

• Allie Navarette (Mira Costa High School, Manhattan Beach, Calif.), a 6-0 forward who averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds a game. She was named Co-MVP of the Bay League.

Navarette and Lee will be expected to help on the boards, where the Vulcans were 11th last year in rebounding margin (minus-4.7), and the others will find their way to playing time in the backcourt and at wing positions.

“I can see where we might be more versatile (in 2017-18),” Kaneshiro said. “Again, we have to get everyone in here, but we might have some options, depending on the opposition that we didn’t have in the past. I’m optimistic.”

Still, the biggest news is Sheikh, who will be in the unusual position of joining a team she knows little about while, at the same time, being the leading scorer with her new teammates.

Any pressure there?

“No, I don’t really feel any pressure,” Sheikh wrote in the email. “I just wanted to be part of a hardworking team, have fun, and achieve as much as possible.

“Coach K told me that all he wants from me is to work hard, be an example and be a great teammate, and then we will see what kind of role that leaves me with. I plan on getting to know my teammates and their playing styles, so that I can become the type of player they need me to be, in order for us to be the most successful,” Sheikh wrote.

“Overall, I don’t feel any pressure, I just plan on working hard, having fun, and enjoying my last year, because that way I play the best.”

With Sheikh (15.1 points), and Schmelz (14.6) on the floor at the same time, Kaneshiro will have the ability to play two of the conference’s top 12 scorers from last year at the same time, perhaps opening possibilities for the post players inside.

It might make for a winning combination.

 

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