Former Ute Malia Nawahine flourishing in her new role at BYU

Graduate transfer loved playing women’s college basketball for Utah, but it was time for a change.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars forward Malia Nawahine (10) and Utah Utes guard Erika Bean (11) as BYU hosts Utah, NCAA women's basketball in Provo, Saturday December 9, 2017.

Provo • Malia Nawahine still hasn’t peeled the University of Utah sticker off the back window of her car.

“Too lazy,” BYU’s newest basketball star says. “I am all BYU now, but I’ve just got so much red stuff everywhere. People here are always saying, ‘We need to get you a new sticker.’ I am like, ‘Go ahead, you can take it off if you want to, but I am not going to.’”

Playing for the Utes for four seasons will do that to a person.

“My whole family is still trying to adjust,” said Nawahine (pronounced: NOW-uh-HE-nay), the third-oldest of Hank and Eve Nawahine’s nine children. “Even my little brothers say, ‘You mean I have to wear blue now?’ It is weird, but it is good.”

Nawahine is the West Coast Conference Player of the Week after scoring 23 and 25 points in wins over San Francisco and Pacific last week, both career highs at the time. She is averaging a respectable 11.3 points per game in her first and only season with the Cougars after transferring from Utah last summer. But coach Jeff Judkins — also a former Ute — is hoping last week’s breakout performances are a sign of things to come.

“She is feeling more comfortable here every game,” Judkins said. “She is feeling more at ease with things, with my system and her new team. We are very fortunate to have her at BYU.”

Nawahine, the 2013 Gatorade Utah Girls Basketball Player of the Year after leading nearby Springville High to an undefeated season and the Class 4A state championship, chose Utah over BYU after originally thinking she was going to be a Cougar.

“I went home after my official BYU visit and told my parents I was going to play there,” she said. “But things changed.”

She eventually decided she wanted to play with a cousin, current Ute Wendy Anae, and sister, Valerie, so she signed with Utah. Nawahine started every game but three last year for the Utes, scored 16 points against BYU in a win at the Huntsman Center and averaged 10.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

But Utah coach Lynne Roberts called Nawahine into her office after the season and suggested that the redshirt junior who was graduating with a degree in psychology consider finishing her career somewhere else. Nawahine was “surprised at first, and kinda bitter” because she wasn’t sure where she was going to play next.

“We both kinda agreed that I wasn’t fitting into her system and doing what she wanted me to do,” Nawahine said. “But if she would have never said anything, I would have stayed.”

Nawahine called her old high school coach, former BYU star Nancy Seljaas Warner, who in turn contacted Judkins and asked if he had a scholarship available for a player who started in 37 games for a Pac-12 school.

“At first, I couldn’t believe it. But I am glad we got it done,” said Judkins, who had to wait to contact Nawahine personally until she received a release from Utah. “It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be to try and get her in school and graduate school and all that. Thank goodness she was a good student and had good grades and had a lot of positive things going her way.”

He also was thankful for the way Roberts handled it.

“Lynne was cool about letting her come here,” he said. “There are a lot of coaches that would have said, ‘No, we are not going to release you to BYU.’ I think you have to give Lynne a lot of credit for that. She wants the best for the kid, too. You can tell by what she did.”

Judkins, who played for Utah from 1974 to 1978 and was an assistant coach on Utah’s men’s team from 1989 to 1999, said he told Nawahine she “was going to take a lot of heat and hear the word ‘traitor’ all the time.”

But the graduate transfer who is working on a master’s degree in public administration said most Utah fans and players have been good about it.

“I am very happy here,” she said Tuesday as the Cougars (8-7, 3-1) prepared for Thursday’s game at Pepperdine. “The people are great. I was nervous about having a new team because I was at Utah for so long. But it has been awesome. They are some of my best friends now. I love it here.”

Still, playing against Utah last December — a 77-68 BYU win in which Nawahine scored 13 points — “was really weird,” she said. “A few times, I almost high-fived Emily [Potter] and Erika [Bean] when they walked past me.”

She still follows the Utes closely and even has attended a few games in Salt Lake City this season.

“I still watch all their games,” she said. “I still want them to win. I went from bleeding red to bleeding blue, but some of my best friends are still on that team. I’ll never cheer against them.”

Except, she says, when they are playing BYU.

Now, about that window sticker.

MALIA NAWAHINE <br>• Graduated from Utah last spring and is playing her final season of eligibility at BYU as a fifth-year graduate transfer. <br>• Scored 48 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in wins over Pacific and San Francisco last week to earn WCC Player of the Week honors. <br>• Third on the BYU team in scoring with an 11.3 average while working on a master’s degree in public administration.