Pagan enjoyed her time with Puerto Rican U18 basketball team
Published in "The Day" High School Sports section
India Pagan spent last week playing basketball in thirty degree weather indoors.
Pagan returned home to New London on Tuesday after spending almost a month with Puerto Rico practicing for, and playing at, the 2016 FIBA U18 Americas Championships in Valdivia, Chile.
It’s winter in Chile.
“Oh, my God,” Pagan said. “We practiced every day before the game, but we had to practice in 35 degree (temperatures). … The courts that they had us practice on, the heat wasn’t working.
“We’d have on gloves at practice. That was different.”
The cold — and the nearly 24 hour trip required to get home — was all worth it for Pagan. She made new friends. She boosted her chance at attracting a better college offer. And she also helped Puerto Rico qualify for the FIBA U19 World Championship next July at Udine and Cividale del Friuli, Italy.
“It was a great time,” Pagan said. “It opened up a lot more opportunities for me, and even though I had to be away from home and my family and friends, it was definitely worth it.”
Pagan, a 6-foot-2 center who’ll be a senior at New London High School this fall, caught the eye of Puerto Rico basketball representatives last summer playing for the Connecticut Storm at an AAU tournament in Washington, D.C.
Representatives contacted her parents, Moses and Carmen, about five months ago to invite India to their tryouts in May in the Bronx. She was born in America, but qualified for the team because both parents were born in Puerto Rico and had citizenship.
“I was totally blown away,” Pagan said. “To have this opportunity to represent Puerto Rico was such an honor, but me and my family had to think about it for a very long time. This is my last AAU season, and if I were to go to this, I would miss one of the biggest tournaments with my team. It was a hard decision.
“I talked to the girls and they all understood. They told me that I couldn’t let this opportunity go by because you don’t know when you’ll get it again.”
Pagan found out in June that she qualified for the team. She flew to Puerto Rico on June 20 to practice with the team for two weeks prior to the tournament.
It’s not easy flying to or from Chile. The trip was almost 24 hours both ways.
“The coaches said that you’d have to brace yourself mentally and physically because it’s going to be a long ride,” Pagan said. “From Puerto Rico, we flew to Miami, then Miami to Chile. That’s about an eight-hour flight. Then we had to take another plane to go to lower Chile.
“On the way back, Angelique (Rodriguez from Hartford Capital) and I had to go from Chile to Miami to Washington, D.C., and then to Hartford. … All those flights. I’m so exhausted.”
Puerto Rico wanted to win two of its three pool games to qualify for worlds and medal. The latter was a lofty goal considering the presence of three of FIBA’s top-ranked teams — Brazil, Canada and the United States.
Puerto Rico beat Chile in its first game (88-74, July 23). It edged Mexico the next day, 72-71, to earn a trip to worlds. Pagan had her best game of the tournament against Mexico as she had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Puerto Rico lost its final three games to Canada, the United States and Brazil. The latter game was for the bronze medal.
Pagan averaged 22 minutes, 8.4 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds in five games
“I think we played pretty well,” Pagan said. “We were so excited (to qualify for worlds). … The U.S. has all of the top recruits, so that was a really good experience for me.”
The other benefit for Pagan was making new friends, such as Rodriguez. Rodriguez and Hartford Capital beat New London in the CIAC Class L final, 51-48, on March 20 of this year.
“The friendships I created with the girls from the states and Puerto Rico is probably what I’ll remember the most,” Pagan said. “I didn’t know (Rodriguez) that well, but we really became close friends in a short amount of time. We talked about that Capital game, everything that happened, our shared experiences.
“Playing against someone in a (state) championship, I thought it was going to be hard, but she’s a really good person and a cool friend.”