Women’s college basketball: New Zealand connection a success for Dominican – Marin Independent

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TAKI TE KOI has had quite a journey back from a torn ligament in her knee. Journeys are nothing new for her, considering she came halfway around the world to play for the Dominican University women’s basketball team.

Te Koi, who grew up in Rotorua, New Zealand, left her family and friends to get a chance to continue her basketball career at the collegiate level nearly four years ago.

She played in her first game of the season for Dominican (1-6) on Saturday, scoring 10 points and pulling down five rebounds in an 81-68 loss to Cal Maritime Academy. It was her first action after being out with a knee injury she suffered diving for a loose ball against Hawai’i Hilo on Jan. 27.

Now the lone senior on Dominican’s squad is ready to put it all out on the court again in trying to get back to the level that made her the California Pacific Conference freshman of the year — the last year the Penguins played in the NAIA before joining the NCAA Division II PacWest Conference — before she likely goes back to her native country after graduation.

Te Koi visited California twice through a basketball exchange program between Redwood High and the Rotorua school, with her last trip coming just before high school graduation. Since there are no college athletic programs in New Zealand, she knew she wanted to come to the states to continue to play.

Former Redwood girls

basketball coach Mike Dibley, who still helps out with the girls program and teaches physical education there, first met Te Koi when she was in eighth grade. Dibley and his family were staying with Rotorua coach Ngaire Lee as part of the exchange program. It is the same program which her cousins — Moerangi (14) and Mahinaarangi Vercoe (13) — took part in last weekend before heading back to New Zealand on Tuesday.

Lee, who is in the New Zealand basketball hall of fame and still coaches the team at the age of 80, was already touting Te Koi as an eighth-grader.

So when Dibley learned Te Koi wanted to explore her college possibilities on the West Coast, he coordinated her visit and set up tryouts with several colleges in the state, including Dominican, Cal Poly Pomona and Westmont.

Dibley took that a big step further when he invited Te Koi to live with him and his family in their San Rafael home to help her save some money since she wasn’t getting a full scholarship to play for Dominican.

After meeting the team and seeing the campus, Te Koi jumped at the chance and quickly assimilated to the Dibley clan.

“The only difficult part (was leaving my family). … There was that unknown factor of coming here,” Te Koi said. “For them to open their house to me, I give a lot of credit to the Dibleys. They’re such an easy family to get along with. I fit in a month.

“Once I got settled at their home, I really haven’t felt homesick. They’re good people. Definitely my American family … my mom and dad.”

The feelings are mutual.

“It was great for my family. … The kids instantly had a big sister,” said Dibley, who is usually found front and center for most of Te Koi’s games at Dominican. “She fit the role perfectly … a great role model. Not just on the court or as a student, but in terms of being a family member. She was enthusiastically involved with family events.”

Dibley, who even helped Te Koi appreciate sports like American football and baseball while turning her into a San Francisco Giants fan, was impressed with her character from the get-go.

“After five minutes, you can’t help being impressed with how authentic, genuine and caring Taki (pronounced Tucky) is. She’s a straight-A student. She works hard for everything from her grades to her basketball team. Her work ethic and drive seems to be innate, yet she makes it all look so effortless.”

Dominican women’s coach Brianna Chambers is glad to have her senior back on the floor.

“We’ve been missing (her) leadership … her unselfishness,” said Chambers, who is in her fifth year coaching at Dominican. “She does whatever the team needs. She’s also one of our more physical players.

“In the four years I’ve coached her, I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about her.”

While Chambers is not sure if Te Koi will be a starter, the coach is certain she will be playing significant minutes and hopefully taking some of the scoring pressure off some of the other players. Sophomore Kayla Valentine (11.4 points a game average) and juniors Kimi Nakamura (7.1 ppg) and Marin Catholic High grad Melissa Wise (6.6 ppg.) lead Dominican in that category.

After she graduates with a biology degree in June, Te Koi plans to return to New Zealand to pursue her studies to become a physical therapist.

She also had plans to try out for the New Zealand national team as it vies for a berth in the 2012 Olympics in London. Whether or not she has to put that dream on hold a little while longer because of her knee injury is still unknown. But there’s still time for the former captain of the under-19 national team to try and fulfill that dream for the 2016 Olympics.

After two years living with the Dibleys, Te Koi decided she wanted to get a bigger taste of college life by living on campus and also serving as her dorm’s residential advisor.

She still makes it over to the Dibleys each week for Sunday dinner to catch up with everyone.

“What they’ve done for me is something I’ll be forever thankful for,” Te Koi said. “The Dibley family lies close to my heart. I feel like I’ll be paying them back for what they’ve done for me for the rest of my life.”

Contact Derek Arild via e-mail at darild@marinij.com

Article source: http://www.marinij.com/prepcentral/ci_19532382

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