New University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Wahine basketball head coach Dana Takahara-Dias knows you know her weaknesses.
She openly talks about her lack of college coaching experience. She concedes that she’s never been on the recruiting trail, trying to sell UH to 18-year-old high school basketball stars looking for the name recognition of a powerhouse program. She acknowledges she hasn’t been a full-time coach at any level in five years, most recently heading the Moanalua and Aloha All-Star high school teams.
But what Takahara-Dias lacks in experience, she makes up for in her unique familiarity with the Wahine basketball program and its history, her understanding of the complexities of the local community and her limitless energy and boundless enthusiasm for the promise and potential of UH hoops.
The open, articulate and outspoken individual who breaks down walls with her contagious optimism and easy laugh is a persuasive salesperson. Words that may sound trite coming from someone else—“the importance of community,” “family” and “hard work”—Takahara-Dias says earnestly. There seems to be no hidden agenda, no façade.
“I fully expect to surround myself with people who have the strengths that I don’t possess at this time,” she says during an interview in mid-June. “But I do believe I have the fortitude to work hard and to be a quick study. I don’t fear it. I look forward to the unknown, because I have nothing to fear.”
Takahara-Dias arrived at the UH Mānoa campus as a walk-on guard from Honolulu’s University High School in 1984. After just one year under then-coach Bill Nepfel, she earned a basketball scholarship. During her senior season, playing under Coach Vince Goo, she demonstrated her work ethic and determination.
After getting humbled by Penn State all-American Suzie McConnell in the second game of Goo’s first season, team captain Takahara-Dias was the first player in the gym the next day, working on her ballhandling, working on her game, wanting to learn from the previous night’s debacle.
Wahine basketball’s second female coach—and the first in 30 years—Takahara-Dias inherits a program that has struggled of late. However, Wahine basketball isn’t too far removed from perennial 20-win seasons and postseason appearances. As administrative assistant on Vince Goo’s staff 1995-99, she has seen first-hand what it takes to succeed.
UH could have hired a bigger name with more college coaching experience, someone with recruiting ties and free from the distractions of raising two young boys alone, someone whose spent the last five years working in college athletics rather than city government.
“When Dana came in the interview, the people were impressed with not only what she said but how she said it,” explains Goo, one of the selection-committee members. “She talked a lot about taking care of the players and giving them the opportunity to have a great college experience. She talked about reaching out to the community and having those people have ownership of Wahine basketball. Knowing her, I know she’s going to get those things done.”
Less than 24 hours after her in-person interview with the five-member selection committee, athletic director Jim Donovan called Takahara-Dias to inform her that she had earned what she calls “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
She soon signed heavily recruited former Punahou standout Shawna Kuehu to a UH scholarship. And she selected fellow Wahine Da Houl as associate coach and named Serenda Valdez assistant coach. Both spent 12 years on Goo’s staff, going to three NCAA Tournaments and four WNIT appearances. Sherice Ajifu, who holds a degree in sport sciences and has worked for the Honolulu mayor’s Basketball Jamboree, will serve as director of operations.
Takahara-Dias chaired the girls basketball event and was deputy directory in enterprise services and parks departments before heading customer services for the City and County of Honolulu.
“I’m very proud of Dana,” says her former boss (and ʻIolani and Harvard basketball alumnus) Mayor Mufi Hannemann. “She has a higher calling right now to revitalize the women’s basketball program. UH is very fortunate to have someone of her caliber.”
“The bottom line is I feel for the program,” says Takahara-Dias. “I’ve been a part of it, as a graduate of the school (BEd ’88, MEd ’92), as a UH letterwinner, as an alumna. There are so many things about it that I love. And now it’s my turn to give back and to contribute to some of the positive experiences I had.”