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Olympics, Stony Brook and Puerto Rico women's basketball: A lot of firsts for SBU's India Pagan

Stony Brook Seawolves forward India Pagan shoots a

Stony Brook Seawolves forward India Pagan shoots a free throw against the UMass Lowell River Hawks in the America East semifinal women's basketball game at Federal Credit Arena on Sunday, March 7, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

India Pagan was sitting in the living room, just watching TV with her sister, Taina. Suddenly, Dad interrupted with breaking news.

"OK guys, I signed both of you to New London’s winter basketball rec league — $40 each," Moises Pagan said.

The two Connecticut kids stared at him in disbelief. India was 10 then, and she dissolved into a puddle of tears. So did her 7-year-old sister. They didn’t want to do it.

"Play the three months they require, and if you don’t like it after the season ends, then you move on to the next sport," Moises said.

India gave it two practices. Then she had breaking news for her father: She really liked it.

She became really good at it, too.

In fact, the 22-year-old Stony Brook standout is in Tokyo, ready to face, as she put it, "the best of the best." Pagan made Puerto Rico’s first Olympic women’s basketball team as a center/power forward. The historic debut is July 27 against China.

"It means the absolute world," she said. "I feel like it’s everyone’s dream. And just to be an Olympian at such a young age is amazing. I’m so excited and I’m super blessed."

Puerto Rico qualified in February while the 6-1 Pagan was playing with the Seawolves. She has been with the national team for three years following two with the junior national team. But she still had to make the Olympic roster, so she went to tryouts in Puerto Rico for a few weeks in May.

Pagan averaged 12.9 minutes, 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds off the bench and won a silver medal with Puerto Rico last month at the AmeriCup tournament in San Juan, but she didn’t receive the official word about going to the Olympics until last week.

"Every year, it’s such an honor to be able to represent Puerto Rico," Pagan said.

She will be Stony Brook’s first basketball player and first active student to compete in the Olympics. Two other athletes went to the Games in track after they moved on. Pagan will play as a grad student this coming season.

"It’s just a lot of firsts," she said. "I’m just super proud of myself that I’ve made it this far. It’s literally the biggest stage in the world, and I get to call myself an Olympian at 22 years old."

Back in New London, there’s also pride, especially for her Puerto Rico-born parents.

Moises is a 6-5 former high school basketball team MVP and one-year pro in Puerto Rico who now works in customer service at a car dealership. Carmen is a former college track star in Puerto Rico and now a kindergarten teacher.

"For my wife and I, I think we’re still, like, a little numb when it comes to her officially being named an Olympian," Moises said. "We were just extremely happy for her, and the fact that all the hard work that she’s put into the game [has paid off]."

Stony Brook’s pride also is showing.

"It means a lot to us," said Ashley Langford, the Seawolves’ new coach. "Stony Brook, first, as a university, it puts us on a worldly stage. I think for our women’s basketball program, it elevates us, too. It’s something we can brag about, right? We have an Olympian in our women’s basketball program."

Before arriving at Stony Brook, Pagan posted more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and won two state titles with New London, including one with Taina, who now plays for Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut. The (New London) Day named India the 2010s Player of the Decade in girls basketball for that area.

She made first-team All-America East as a Stony Brook junior in 2019-20, averaging 13.4 points and six rebounds. The team went 28-3 and won the program’s first America East regular-season championship. The Seawolves lost a chance to play in the conference tournament final due to the pandemic, but were declared the champs.

The Seawolves’ center, who owns the highest career field-goal percentage in program history at .512, scored her 1,000th point this past season and made second-team All-America East.

This time, Stony Brook beat Maine to earn its first America East tournament crown and the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament, where it fell to Arizona.

"That was another dream that I was able to reach," Pagan said.

After this final season, her plan is to go pro, probably starting in Puerto Rico.

"She’s got the best hands that I’ve seen in a long time," said Langford, who was hired after Caroline McCombs left for George Washington. "And she’s just a low-post threat. She gets double- and triple-teamed every game in conference because she’s just that good."

Her teams usually benefit.

"I don’t know what it is," Pagan said, "but I feel like every team I go on, it’s either making history or just winning."

Now comes more history.

Times sure have changed from 2016.

The TV was on at home, and Pagan was watching the Rio Olympics. She asked her parents why the Puerto Rico women weren’t there for basketball.

"They were like, ‘They never make it. They’ve never made it into any Olympics,’ " Pagan said. "I was like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’ I just think it’s ironic that now I’m on the team that made it to the Olympics for the first time."

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