Alumni Stars Bring Pride To Bitanga’s ‘Eastsidaz Nation’
Since he founded his Eastsidaz girls basketball club a decade ago, scanning the prep box scores in the morning paper has given founder and coach Simon Bitanga a lot of satisfaction.
Indeed, his list of Eastsidaz alumni is impressive.
“Two years ago, a parent pointed out to me that there were eight teams that had an Eastsidaz player on them,” Bitanga said.
Nothing pleased him more, however, than when four Eastsidaz teams captured their divisions of the “Jam On It” Grand Finale National Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas in late July. Eastsidaz entered teams in the 10-andunder, 12-and-under and 13and-under divisions, as well as in the junior varsity and high school divisions. All five teams advanced to the championship game of their respective tournaments with only the 12-andunder team finishing as runner-up.
“ That was the one we thought would win,” Bitanga joked of the 12-and-under team.
Bitanga had led the Eastsidaz to a national title in 2008 for 13-and-unders at the Vision Sports Main Event National Tournament, and he was hopeful his teams would make a good showing this time. He recently printed up T-shirts with a new slogan “We Came Up For More And We Brought Back Four.”
“We traveled with over 200 people, and it was a lot of fun,” said Bitanga, who also is head varsity coach at Kaiser High. “The girls really rose to the occasion. We were outmatched as far as speed, height and size, but the girls came to play.”
Bitanga started Eastsidaz mainly as a way to coach his daughters, Keely and Micaela. The club has steadily grown from 10 girls in 2000 to more than 100 today.
“Our first class would be sophomores in college now.”
Alumni playing college basketball at present are Chelsy Okuma (Eastern Oregon), Kelcie Namba (Northwest Christian) and Jamie Higa (Chaminade), among others.
“I was coaching JV basketball at Kaiser at the time, and my daughters were 11 and 7,” he said. “They used to come to all my practices at Kaiser, but I never thought about teaching them basketball. Keely had been playing soccer, but she’d had a bad experience and she wanted to play basketball.”
Eastsidaz’s success is even more impressive considering they lack a gym and practice on outdoor courts at a park. On the positive side, they’ve hosted a spring league — March to July — for years at Koko Head District Park, which has gone a long way toward the development of their teams.
Like the club, Eastsidaz’s spring league also has been a rousing success, increasing from six teams to its current count of 43.
“Others had tried to make a club and had failed,” he noted. “One had 15 girls on the first day, they then had seven on the second and four on the third day. Having over 100 girls now is a positive. We don’t charge them, and it is word of mouth. We don’t really put it out there (through advertising).”
Contact Jack Danilewicz at firstname.lastname@example.org.