Women's hoops league stronger than ever in fourth year


POSTED: Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nani Cockett has a feeling she might have to dig deep this summer.





        The D.One NCAA women's summer league begins play tonight at the Manoa District Park old gym. The top players expected to suit up for each team:



» Keisha Kanekoa, Hawaii junior


» Aritta Lane, Fresno State alum




» Nani Cockett, Hawaii alum


» Dita Liepkalne, Hawaii senior




» Brandy Richardson, UC Santa Barbara alum


» Elyse Umeda, Princeton alum




» Shawna-Lei Kuehu, Hawaii freshman


» Mai Ayabe, Japan




» Jamie Smith, UNLV sophomore


» Mana Hopkins, Hawaii Pacific sophomore




» Shaena-Lyn Kuehu, Idaho sophomore


» Brittney Aiwohi, Hawaii alum


The former Rainbow Wahine great took one look at the top-to-bottom talent of the fourth D.One NCAA women's summer league and realized that schooling the youngsters just won't be the same.

“;I think the talent level this year is exceptional, is the best (it's been),”; Cockett said. “;Each year it's getting better and better.”;

The six-team league kicks off play tonight at the Manoa District Park old gym and runs Tuesdays and Saturdays until early August, when a champion is crowned. Cockett's team, Big Ben Entertainment, opens against Ho'okipa in the first game at 6:15 p.m.

With an influx of players such as the Hawaii-bound Shawna-Lei Kuehu, Idaho sophomore Shaena-Lyn Kuehu (her twin), UNLV's Jamie Smith and more, the D.One has genuine stars just a year removed from high school.

While the NCAA men's summer league in Hawaii is beyond its 30th running, D.One is still in its infant stages. But the goal of the two is identical — prepare high school graduates for basketball at the college level, and keep current collegians at their peak between seasons.

Cockett dominated at UH between 1994 and '98, and is now a mentor for the next generation of hoopsters. Though it's been more than 10 years since she played, she still has that competitive spark.

“;I always look forward to play, but for me right now, at my age and time in my life, it's not about me,”; she said. “;It's about trying to prepare these girls and if it means me playing as hard as I can to prepare them, then I will. I'll try my hardest, but ...”; — she laughed — “;I've slowed down over the years. I'll admit it. I still love to play, and whatever way I can help.”;

The first-round draft picks for the six teams were Cockett, the Kuehus, Smith, Hawaii's Keisha Kanekoa, and UC Santa Barbara alum Brandy Richardson.

Interest was at an all-time high in tryouts this month. For the first time, the league had to turn away players because of maximum roster sizes (72 in all).

Cockett's father, Clay, is the league coordinator.

“;Interest has grown so, so much,”; Clay Cockett said. “;We're very pleased that these women recognize the opportunity, and want to participate. We still have a lot of women who have completed their eligibility, and some who have never played college ball but still want to be competitive, still have that spirit.”;

While the number of teams has been static at six since the league's inception, D.One showed initiative in tapping into the Big Island's girls basketball talent this summer. It opened a four-team branch there which has already started play.