Tuesday, November 2, 1999
with jump shots
Dainora Puida's ticket to
Hawaii and the Wahine
was playing basketball
Nerijus Puida will fulfill his hoop dreamsBy Al Chase
Basketball has become the means for Dainora Puida to travel and experience places and things she never dreamed possible when she first started playing the sport as a fifth grader in Siauliai, Lithuania.
She played well enough that by the time she entered the eighth grade, her club coach recommended she attend a sports high school.
"I lived away from home since then in the dorm. We practiced twice a day," she said.
Following graduation, she played for the Lithuanian junior national team for a year. Then, at the insistence of her best friend and teammate, Reda Petraitis, Puida left home to play basketball for Weatherford College in Weatherford, Texas.
After being named North Texas Junior College Association Freshman of the Year (1997-98) and National Junior College third-team All-American last season, she and her then-boyfriend, Nerijus Puida, chose to continue their education at Hawaii.
They were married July 10.
None of this would have transpired if Dainora hadn't been able to convince her parents Trena and Antanan Umbrasaite to let her play basketball. Especially her mother, Trena, who is a music teacher at the kindergarten level.
"My parents wanted me to study to be a music teacher, but I really liked basketball. I was a kid and I wanted to play. And, the music lessons were at the same time as basketball practice," Puida said.
The decision to come to America wasn't easy. Petraitis had told the Weatherford coaches all about Puida's abilities. But, being the oldest of three children made the choice difficult. And, English was spoken in America.
"I studied English in high school, but I always thought 'I'll never need English,' you know. I never thought I'd be going to America. When I got here, I knew how to say 'Hi' and 'thank you,' " said Puida.
She and Nerijus, just friends at that time, made the 20-hour trip to Dallas together. The trip would have been out of the question if Lithuania hadn't gained its independence in 1990.
"If it was Russia still in control, I never would have had the opportunity to come to America," Puida said. "I didn't know what to expect. My parents were happy for me but my mother really got scared when I decided to come to Hawaii. She said you're going too far and I can't even find Hawaii on the map. She's OK now.
"My father told me to go where you're going to be happy."
Last year, the 6-foot 4 center helped Weatherford to a 20-10 record while averaging 18 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
Wahine assistant coach Jon Newlee recruited Puida when he was still at Southern Methodist.
"I liked the way she ran the floor for a girl her size and liked the touch she had from outside," Newlee said.
"She didn't seem to mind the physical stuff and she played in one of the most physical junior college leagues in the country."
Dainora and Nerijus began dating at Weatherford and decided they were going to go to the same school when their junior college careers were completed.
"The SMU men's coaches knew he could play, but they were stock full at the '2' guard. There was no room for Nerijus," Newlee said.
The couple made a recruiting trip to Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, then to Hawaii.
"When we came here, after 10 minutes Nerijus told me, 'I would like to live here.' I was like, me too, but we have to see what it's like, meet the coach," Puida said.
By the time their 48-hour visit was over, they knew Hawaii was the place.
Head coach Vince Goo already has said Dainora will start.
"I played center in Lithuania, but I never had to post up. I played more outside. It's more physical here, but I can play in this post I think," Puida said.
There will be a reunion with Petraitis, a starting forward for Oregon State. The Wahine play the Beavers, Dec. 11 in the Hawaii Invitational.
Ka Leo O Hawaii