Summer for New London's India Pagan included bronze medal, trip to China
New London — There were three teams worth of women's basketball players in a room earlier this month in Lima, Peru, waiting to accept medals following competition at the Pan Am Games.
The gold was going to Brazil, which had just beaten the United States, making the U.S. somewhat dejected as it readied to accept the silver. Then there was the national team from Puerto Rico, which, with a 66-55 victory over Colombia a few hours earlier, was set to receive the bronze.
The Puerto Rican team, the youngest member of which is 20-year-old New London High School graduate India Pagan, was jubilant.
"We're the loudest. We're the goofiest. We were the ones having fun," Pagan said. "Of course, we wanted to win the gold, but we were making the best of it. Our coach (Jerry Batista), he was just so proud of us with what we accomplished. He expected we could do it; he didn't doubt us ... just the fact we were representing the little island of Puerto Rico.
"It's special, honestly."
Pagan flew into John F. Kennedy International Airport and arrived back in New London at about 4 a.m. Tuesday. She has until Sunday before leaving for her junior year at Stony Brook University on Long Island. A 6-foot-1 forward, she will return as the Seawolves' leading rebounder from last season.
In between Lima and her return home, Pagan spent nine days in Xichang, China, as Puerto Rico competed in the Four Nations Tournament along with the national teams from China, Japan and Greece.
There she faced off against players such as the 6-foot-7 center for the Chinese team, Li Yueru, a 2019 WNBA Draft pick, and stayed in a hotel so opulent that it reminded Pagan of a palace, enough so that she sent a social media post back home announcing that she felt like she was in a movie.
"Three other girls had been to China and they said they hated it. They kept saying the food was bad, the hotel was bad," Pagan said. "We get there and the hotel was beautiful. It's a mansion. They said, 'Well, we prepared you for the worst.' But it was the best."
Outside of basketball, Pagan — whose parents Moises and Carmen both hail from Puerto Rico, giving her dual citizenship — learned she wants to travel the world someday, even more than she already has. The Great Wall of China, which the team was unable to see while it was there, is high on her list.
As for basketball, she realized even more so the potential she has and what, for instance, would cause Stony Brook coach Caroline McCombs to pull her from a game last year for being boxed out on a rebounding attempt when Pagan, in fact, was already leading the team in rebounding.
"It's a wakeup call," said Pagan, in her fourth year playing in Puerto Rico during the summer months, her second as a member of the national team. "I didn't know if I wasn't going to play (very much) this year. Before we had a post that was like 34 and she would play the majority of the game. But she retired, so I fill in more.
"To play against these top players of that caliber (internationally) and knowing I'm battling with them ... my coaches (at Stony Brook) just expect so much from me and I want to live up to that. I can definitely always do more. I want to become, I don't want to say the leader I wasn't, but a bigger leader. I want to embrace that role."
Pagan was The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year, having graduated with more than 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. She averaged 15.8 points and 15.8 rebounds in six state tournament games her senior season, leading New London (26-2) to the Class LL state championship and the state's No. 1 overall ranking.
This season she'll be joined at the collegiate level by younger sister Taina, who will be a freshman at Post University in Waterbury. Tai Pagan was The Day's 2019 All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year. Both sisters played for their home town of New London while graduating from the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton.
"She's awesome," McCombs said of India Pagan after a game in Fairfield last season. "Such a great personality. How much she cares about her teammates is really special. It really is contagious. "She has such a huge up side. So many positive things."
McCombs attended the tournament in Peru, where Puerto Rico finished 2-1 in pool play to advance to the semifinals against the United States. A narrow loss to the U.S. put Pagan's team in the bronze medal game against Colombia.
Pagan's finest game of that stretch came in a 64-58 loss to Brazil in the preliminary round, in which she finished with a team-best seven rebounds. Pagan had two points, three rebounds (two offensive rebounds) and three steals in 14 minutes to help capture the bronze medal.
There are reminders all around Pagan's New London home of how far she's come as an athlete since, say, her Little League softball days.
What's next? Perhaps a spot on Puerto Rico's Olympic roster for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, should the team secure one of 12 bids? Perhaps a career in the WNBA or playing overseas? First up: a few days to enjoy her friends and family back in New London and to buy school supplies.
"I've just been surrounded by such great teams," Pagan said of her continued enjoyment of the game. "I've played with players from AAU, players from high school that went to college and didn't like their teammates.
"This national team, we're not perfect, but we get over it. The people are older. Their lives are set. They have jobs. They call me 'the baby' sometimes, 'oh, we've got to take care of the baby.' It's annoying, but it's out of love. We're all just one team."
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