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Archive for March 24, 2021

March 24, 2021 — An appreciation: Tiana Mangakahia, point guard, Syracuse

One in an occasional series.

Syracuse University is a school which has billed itself as a “student-centered research university.” Like many large universities in the United States, it is well-known for its sports programs. This has included a lot of men’s sports, but in the last few years, the women’s basketball team has emerged as a contender for league and national honors, making the national title game in 2016.

Yesterday, the Orange found themselves on the wrong end of an 83-47 decision against the University of Connecticut. It is the third time in the last six years that UConn ended the Orange’s season. On the face of it, this is to be expected, given the number of blue-chip recruits who come to Storrs every year to play at Connecticut.

But Syracuse was led in yesterday’s defeat by a player who not only came to the university through a different patch, but who had a highly unconventional athletics career.

Meet Tiana Mangakahia, who came to the Syracuse program through a highly indirect path.

Mangakahia from Brisbane, Australia, and came to America in 2015 with the goal of improving her basketball prowess and academics by attending Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

Junior college is often used by male athletes to catch up on college credits in revenue sports like football and men’s basketball before transitioning to a Division I university. On the women’s side, this is much rarer. But upon settling into the Syracuse program in 2017, she showed off her skills. She led the country in assists and scored 44 points in one game.

Mangakahia faced a dual obstacle, however, before her senior season, which would started in the fall of 2019. That summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which forced her into chemotherapy treatments as well as a double mastectomy. She was already supposed to have sat out that season, only for the COVID-19 epidemic to end not only the women’s basketball season, but all NCAA sports for the 2019-2020 academic year.

She came back for her delayed senior season and was magnificent for a Syracuse team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Division I Tournament. She scored a shade over 11 points per game and had double-digits in assists six times. And she also played a very clean game of basketball: she fouled out only four times in her entire Syracuse career.

Now, we don’t know whether or not we’ll be seeing this plucky guard in either the WNBA or Australia’s WNBL, or perhaps somewhere overseas come this summer. But what we do know is that, wherever she goes, it will be the unconventional way.