Kotani's path has had many obstacles
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
After surviving three concussions and a badly sprained ankle in the past 14 months, Moanalua senior Amy Kotani is well-educated in the School of Hard Knocks.
"The biggest thing I've learned is not to take things for granted," Kotani said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity of just being able to play."
The injuries cost her all but five games (including preseason) of her junior basketball season, her entire senior season of volleyball and seven games of this past basketball season including all but 30 seconds of a huge "Senior Night" showdown against Kahuku.
"It was irritating after a while, and sometimes, I wanted to quit," Kotani said. "But I decided to try to keep fighting because I love basketball that much ... I love to play basketball."
Kotani's high school athletic career got off to a promising start, as she was named an Advertiser All-State defensive specialist in volleyball and a first-team O'ahu Interscholastic Association Eastern Division all-star point guard in basketball as a sophomore.
Kotani again was a first-team OIA East all-star in volleyball as a junior, but during the basketball preseason, she suffered the first of many bad breaks.
Kotani had a mild concussion and after sitting out a week, she returned but then suffered a Grade 1 (the highest) concussion in the third regular-season game against Kahuku on April 5 after a scuffle for a loose ball.
Kotani sat out another week and had hoped to return in time for the OIA playoffs and state tournament, but because of the seriousness and recurrence of the concussions, Kotani eventually was advised to sit out the remainder of the season.
The inactivity hurt not just because the Menehunes advanced to the state quarterfinals, but also because of other opportunities lost.
"Junior year is supposed to be the most important year for college recruiting," said Kotani's mother, Robin. "It was tough for her, because she's not used to staying still. But they said if she gets hit one more time, she may never play again, or she could die. That scared us. She thought her career was over."
Kotani was cleared to play in the summer, but she decided not to risk injury in the fall and sat out the volleyball season, which finished with Moanalua reaching the OIA title game and state quarterfinals.
"It was hard, but I always wanted to play basketball in college and I missed a lot in my junior year," Kotani said. "I felt like I was behind everybody else who got to play. And I thought, 'What if I got hurt again?' In volleyball, I had to dive a lot, and one jolt to the head ... I wanted to save myself for basketball. I didn't want to jeopardize my last season."
Kotani spent the fall training for hoops and continued her preparation throughout the winter.
"As for work ethic, she's the type of person, if you tell her, 'Be here at 6 p.m.,' she's there at 5:30," said Moanalua basketball coach Roy Dias. "If you tell her 'Stay till 7,' she'll stay till 7:30. And if you tell her in the kitchen, 'Pick up this one thing,' she'll clean the whole room."
Dias said during offseason conditioning, he sometimes would look out onto the football stadium and see one person alone.
"I always knew Amy would be there," Dias said.
No easy finish
After all the drills, the hundreds of wind sprints, the endless hours of shooting, official practice finally began in February. But Kotani's injury bug stubbornly stuck around.
In the Menehunes' fifth preseason game, at Honoka'a, Kotani suffered a bad ankle sprain and was forced to the sidelines again for two weeks.
"That was junk," Kotani said. "I was so happy to finally be playing again, and that was the best basketball I had ever played. Then I got hurt again, and I was so sad."
She returned in two weeks, but needed another two weeks to return to full strength. Then, in Moanalua's sixth regular-season game, Kotani collided with a McKinley player and got hit in the jaw. After 15 minutes, she was diagnosed with a Grade 2 concussion.
"Every time she got hit, it hurt us, too," Robin said. "But because she loved the game so much, we let her play. Ever since sixth grade, she has worked to play college basketball. She knew the consequences."
Kotani would have to sit out another week, including the "Senior Night" showdown against the East's only other unbeaten team, Kahuku. She started the game and hit her only shot attempt, a 3-pointer, before coming out for good after only 30 seconds.
Moanalua went on to win, 49-44, en route to the OIA championship.
"I was just so happy to play, even for that short amount of time," Kotani said. "It made me feel better, just to be a part of that win."
Moanalua's state title hopes and bid for an unbeaten season ended last Thursday with a 42-39 loss to Kahuku in the state semifinals, but the Menehunes rebounded with a win over Farrington for third place.
Kotani, who had 14 points in her high school finale, hopes to continue her basketball career, perhaps as a University of Hawai'i walk-on.
"Any college coach will never regret taking Amy," Dias said. "She has always persevered, and she definitely has what it takes."
In the meantime, Kotani will graduate from Moanalua with a 3.9 grade point average, and many lessons learned out of the classroom.
"All of this will help me in the future," Kotani said.