GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Iwalani Rodrigues is adjusting to life as a senior transfer at Kalani and the Falcons' basketball team.
Flying with the Falcons
Rodrigues feels the ups and downs of her transfer from Roosevelt
IT was a memory Iwalani Rodrigues had no intentions of reliving. For a lot of kids, the first day of senior year is one of the few times it's actually fun to go to school.
You finally get to sit in the much-hyped senior area for lunch. The rest of the school is finally looking up to you instead of the other way around. You finally get to enjoy those senior privileges that you always wished you had.
Yes, there's plenty to look forward to on that unique day, unless you're the new kid on the block.
Such was the case for Rodrigues at Kalani.
"I don't even want to think about that day again," Rodrigues said. "It reminded me of that first day of elementary school when you have no friends."
For the last two years, Rodrigues seemed perfectly comfortable at Roosevelt. The 5-foot-10 do-everything basketball player helped the Rough Riders to consecutive OIA championships.
She was playing ball with her friends that she grew up with. She enjoyed playing in coach Bobby Keanini's up-tempo style, getting out on the break and finishing easy baskets.
She averaged 15 points a game and finished third in last season's Star-Bulletin Fab 15 poll as the state's best underclassman.
She would have been the top returning player on the most dominant OIA team in the last two seasons. Things couldn't seem to be any better on the outside, but that wasn't necessarily the case on the inside.
"It was all academic reasons," Rodrigues said on her sudden transfer to Kalani. "It's hard because I don't want to say much and make Roosevelt look bad. They really helped me."
It's a subject Rodrigues is still sensitive about. It was easy to see the discomfort in her face when asked about it. The normally outgoing. easy-to-talk-to personality was quickly replaced by slow, methodical answers every time she tried to talk about it.
Clearly, it has been uncomfortable from the start.
"I didn't want it to seem like it was only for basketball," Rodrigues continued. "It's for the best reason, you know. Trying to go to college."
Rodrigues had plenty of offers on the table from schools, including Virginia Tech, Pepperdine and Hawaii.
But all it took was one visit to the University of Utah campus for Rodrigues to make her decision.
"I signed with them on the first day," Rodrigues said. "I guess it's true what people say when you first enter a campus and fall in love with it. It's really different from home and that's what I wanted. I wanted to experience a whole different environment."
Rodrigues was born and raised in Hawaii, but has had opportunities to play basketball on the mainland thanks to her involvement in the Kalakaua Foundation Basketball Clinic.
It has allowed her to play in tournaments in Las Vegas, Oregon and Seattle, which is where coaches from prominent colleges have taken notice.
"That's where I started getting letters from schools," Rodrigues said. "I wouldn't have gotten a lot without going to that clinic and being able to play on the mainland."
In order to get there, Rodrigues is working hard to take care of the academic side of things as well.
"The standards here are way different from other schools," Rodrigues said. "It's a good school and I'm working hard this year."
That includes on the court, where she has wasted no time familiarizing herself with a Falcons team that made the state tournament a year ago.
They lost a couple of key players from that squad, including sharpshooter Megan Kamehiro and Courtney Gaddis, but return a solid core group.
Roosevelt allows its players to freelance a lot on offense, but first-year Falcons coach George Weeks stresses the lesser-known nuances of the game.
It's a much more rigid style of basketball with an emphasis on making smart decisions.
"It's not the same run, run, run style, but it's pretty neat because everyone had to start fresh again," Rodrigues said. "We all had to start from the bottom learning everything."
Weeks, who coached in California for the last eight years, knew he would be inheriting a good team based on the win-loss records from previous years. He had heard rumblings about Rodrigues' transfer from Roosevelt, but had no idea just how much she brings to the team.
"The skills that she has is a given, but it's the intangibles she brings to the table that I am most impressed with," Weeks said. "What's most impressive about her is she's such a good person and her personality rubs off on everybody."
Rodrigues' personality and basketball skills have made the transfer easier, but it still hasn't been without a lot of anxiety and trepidation.
It'll be the same way when the Falcons face her old team on Dec. 22.
"I don't know what to expect," Rodrigues said. "I know coach Bob and he's a really smart coach. It's going to be a rowdy game."
No matter what happens however, Rodrigues will be ready. It hasn't been the first obstacle in her life and it won't be the last.
What's most important to her is the way she has learned to deal with difficult situations.
"People aren't always going to be happy with you," she said. "But it's all (good). I'm not going to sit and cry myself to sleep."
"I'm strong. I can handle it."