Rainbow Wahine basketball preview: Imani Perez

Nov. 17—Perez, who played a big role in Hawaii's late-season run to a Big West Tournament title, is looking to continue that success right out of the gate this season.

For Imani Perez, it's all about finding her comfort level on the basketball court.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward returns for her second season with Hawaii women's basketball this season feeling much more in tune with her Rainbow Wahine teammates.

Perez, who played a big role in Hawaii's late-season run to a Big West Tournament title, is looking to continue that success right out of the gate this season.

A stretch-4 who has the green light to shoot from 3-point range, Perez says she feels a lot more confident heading into Year 2 of her college career.

"I just think as a player I went in a little scared, " Perez said about her freshman season. "I told them I don't want to start and I don't want to mess up. 'I don't want to mess up' was always my first thought, and then you realize practice is when your time is to mess up because then the game is just going to be practice and you're ready for it."

Whether she was ready or not, Perez was forced into action late in the season due to injuries to other players.

After making one start in nonconference play against Stanford, Perez ended up starting eight of Hawaii's final nine games.

UH went 6-2 in those eight starts with Perez averaging 8.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. She ended up making the All-Big West Freshman team.

"Those last few games I just knew I was ready for the challenge that was brought to me, " Perez sad.

That's the confidence coach Laura Beeman is banking on seeing this year.

Part of why Perez chose Hawaii is the atmosphere and culture Beeman has built this program around.—RELATED :—RELATED :—RELATED :

Perez needed time to grow into who she wants to be as a basketball player, and Beeman was more than willing to give her the time that she needs.

"We're not going to put pressure on Imani. Whatever Imani wants to do, we're going to let her do, " Beeman said. "She always works hard, she always brings great effort and she's a talented young lady. What I'm not going to do is push her if she's not ready. If she says, 'Coach, I'm ready to go to the next level' then we are going to push her. If she says, 'Coach, I'm good here. I'm going to work 100 % here, ' then I'm going to let her. That's what works for this kid. That's what makes her tick. She does not take advantage of that kind of coaching."

It all goes back to comfort.

Growing up in Denver, Perez was coached by her father, Michael, who put together a team and a program to coach both of his daughters.

Perez, who says she's been tall her whole life, started to notice during AAU season that she could play at the same level as other girls who were moving on to play Division I basketball.

She was recruited by other schools and knew going all the way out to an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would take her out of that comfort level, but it was a risk worth taking because of who she would play for.

"All throughout my basketball career, my dad has been my coach and pushed me in a way that's pretty similar to how I am being pushed now, " Perez said. "Here it's a whole different atmosphere than back home, but it works perfect for me and fits me great. Being out here has been a learning process, but it has allowed me to grow up myself."

Goals for her sophomore season aren't individual ones. For Perez, it's all about continuing the success Hawaii has had in winning back-to-back conference titles.

"I'm hoping that we can have the same outcome as last season. That's always what I want, " Perez said. "I want to be able to connect with my teammates, connect with my coaches and to be able to have that chemistry we've never had before. We all have the same end goal and that's what's really important."