The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year: New London's India Pagan
India Pagan was in a classroom recently at Jennings Elementary School in New London, the room where her mom, Carmen, is a teacher. Pagan, all 6-foot-2 of her, was scrunched up, folded into a kindergarten-sized chair.
At that moment, Pagan was enveloped by two of the things she loves most: her family and her city.
And she was getting ready to speak about a third.
The New London High School girls' basketball team.
“We're always joking,” Pagan said. “Tai (her younger sister, also a member of the team) said she has an album of all the different laughs on the team. That's what keeps us connected. We're all really sisters.
“My family calls me 'Lee,' because my name is India Lee Pagan and the other girls call me that sometimes. Charee (Osborne, a 2016 New London graduate) says it all the time. They get to call me that nickname that my family calls me.”
Pagan was named The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Basketball Player of the Year.
A first team all-state selection, Pagan led New London's march to the Class LL state championship and the state's No. 1 ranking in the final GameTimeCT/New Haven Register top 10, with the Whalers finishing 26-2.
Pagan, who received Most Outstanding Player honors as New London won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament days earlier, followed with part consistency, part ferocity as the Whalers plowed their way through the Class LL tournament. She averaged 15.8 points and 15.8 rebounds in the state tournament, posting a double-double in each of the team's five games until, finally, third-seeded New London topped No. 1 Trumbull 42-36 to win the title, March 18 before 8,186 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Pagan will graduate having eclipsed 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and appearing in the state championship game three of four seasons, winning two, one as a freshman, one as a senior.
“India's quiet. India's very shy. Like, 'What? India, did you say something?'” New London coach Holly Misto said. “I saw more emotion in her this year where she wanted to win. … She was a different player. In the past, you didn't know if India was going to dominate a game or kind of sit back. This year, every game she was dominant.
“She was getting the rebound, getting the fast break going, a combination of everything. Definitely, I'd rather have her on my team.”
Pagan, whose parents Carmen and Moises both hail from Puerto Rico — they met at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez — represented her parents' native country last summer in the FIBA Americas U18 Women's Championship in Valdivia, Chile.
Pagan averaged 8.4 points and a team-best 6.8 rebounds over five games for Puerto Rico, which finished fourth to qualify for this summer's U19 World Championship in Italy.
She had the opportunity to match up against the United States during the tournament and players such as Lauren Cox of Baylor and Megan Walker, who will attend UConn, the No. 1 recruits in the nation over the last two seasons, as well as Tyasha Harris, who started and played 37 minutes for 2017 national champion South Carolina.
The tournament also led to Pagan's recruitment by Division I Stony Brook University in Long Island, where she will play beginning next season for the women's basketball team.
Misto immediately noticed Pagan's confidence level soar from that month-long trip.
“I had to play defense against the really big girls. I never saw girls so big,” Pagan said. “It made me a better player.”
Pagan, whose family speaks mainly Spanish at home, is proud of her heritage. With Carmen Pagan being one of 18 children, India still has several aunts and uncles in Puerto Rico, where she vacationed growing up. In New London, each Sunday brings dinner at her grandmother's house, where the entire extended family gathers for native cuisine.
“People always say, 'You're such a family girl,'” Pagan said. “For Sunday dinners, my whole family gets together, seven or eight families, four or five kids each. We have birthdays at her house. I've taken some of the girls (from the basketball team) there and she feeds them.”
Puerto Rico also says “beach” to Pagan. Pagan, along with her sister, attends the Marine Science Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, located in Groton, which still affords her the opportunity to play sports in her home town. She chose Stony Brook, in part, for its marine science program and lists one of her lifelong highlights as swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove one summer as part of a trip to Orlando, Fla.
Family dinners and dolphins aside, however, this is a young woman who not so much, well, rebounded her rebounds, but ripped them from the air.
NFA coach Bill Scarlata called Pagan “spectacular” following the ECC championship game, in which New London avenged a loss to the Wildcats just the week before.
“We just thought we were going to win (the regular-season matchup against NFA),” Pagan said. “They came in with even more fire. (In the championship game), we came back with even more fire.”
And that's how New London faced the entire postseason, with fire. Pagan said the Whalers played to get back to Mohegan Sun, where they lost in the Class L championship game a year ago to Hartford Capital. And they played for one last moment as a team before Pagan and fellow four-year starter Jada Lucas (University of Hartford) depart for college.
The Whalers' win prompted just about every member of the team, including Pagan, to flood the arena with the happiest of tears.
“I'm not going to lie. In the beginning I had my doubts,” Pagan said. “(Class LL), that's the highest level in Connecticut.
“As the postseason progressed, we kept beating teams. … I really couldn't, I couldn't think. I'd be like, 'We have a game today. We're so close to a state championship, me and the rest of the team. I just want to win this game.' Beating NFA, beating E.O. Smith, beating Stamford, it was like, 'Look how far we've come.' And for me, it'll be the last time I get to play with those girls.
“I'm proud to get to say I made history. The girls' basketball team won the championship twice. The city has pride in that.
“We got the ring. We got the ring.”
The Day's 2017 All-Area Girls' Basketball Team
Player of the Year – India Pagan (New London)
Mia Brennan (Waterford)
Mackenzie Burke (NFA)
Hailey Conley (NFA)
Caitlyn Dittman (St. Bernard)
Jada Lucas (New London)
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Under normal circumstances, the bleachers would have been full, the band in full regalia and the players in full pads for the renewal of a rivalry and the regular rhythms of a fall Friday night.