KAPAA — It was about seven years ago that Kapaa High School senior Jaliyah Casem set her sights on playing college ball.
Casem, 18, received a partial scholarship and will play basketball for Walla Walla University, an NAIA school in College Place, Wash. She signed her letter of intent Friday at Kapaa High School.
“I have mixed emotions. I’m pumped, excited and nervous at the same time,” Casem said shortly after she signed her letter. “I’m ready for, well, not really ready but I want to think I’m ready for it.”
Kapaa High School varsity girls basketball coach William Aki said while he coached Casem at the community youth level, he asked her whether she wanted to play college ball.
“She about 10, and just about hip-high when I first had her. Now, she’s about shoulder-high,” Aki said. “She works really hard. I sent her to whatever clinics and camps that came up. Whatever I sent her to, she went. That shows a lot commitment to the sport. I put her through a lot the past seven years to get here where she is now, and hopefully going to the next level, the coach has a spot for her and she plays very well up there.”
Casem said her opportunity to play for Walla Walla University came about after playing AAU basketball in Washington last summer.
“I just always knew basketball was my sport. It was just flowing. Going into high school, or even middle school, I just worked hard and believed in myself,” she said. “With the help and support of my parents, coaches, friends and even God, especially God, I did what I do best. With everyone’s help, I’m here right now. I’m kind of speechless. I still shocked that I’m committed to a college.”
Casem was a four-year varsity starter for Aki and Kapaa High’s girls basketball program. She is a one-time Kauai Interscholastic Federation champion (2016) and a three-time KIF girls basketball all-star.
In that 2016 KIF-winning team, Casem was the starting point guard as a freshman.
“Knowing that I was going to lose my two top guards her freshman year, I was grooming her already to be that starting point guard,” Aki said. “It was hard work, but from then until now, she grew a lot and understands the game and her position well.”
At 5-foot-3, Casem was never the tallest person on the court. But she never saw her height as a disadvantage.
“A majority of the players are fast and can handle the ball, but not that fast where they can — I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I’m usually faster than them,” she said. “That was my advantage — getting in small spaces and creeping inside the holes.”
The Warriors senior added she’s a bit disappointed she didn’t win more KIF titles after winning one in her freshman year, she’s proud to have worn and played in Kapaa green.
“My freshman year got me pumped for playing the rest of my three years. But even though I didn’t get what I wanted, everything comes with learning experience,” she said. “So, I’m a better person because of that. I definitely learned a lot. It made me work harder.”
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.