From Kelowna to California: How 17-year-old Kanani Coon Made Her Dreams of Playing NCAA Basketball A Reality

Jul 26, 2023

Standing tall at 6’1″ and only 17 years old, Kanani Coon is a talented and inspirational athlete.


Her story shares the challenges and triumphs that led her to advocate for the Indigenous community while scoring a spot at a top U.S. Division 1 University to play NCAA Basketball. 


Growing up in Kelowna, Kanani is a member of the Enoch Cree Nation and the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation. Kanani’s parents are athletes, so sport was always a part of her life and she recalls the first time she was introduced, “I started playing soccer like most kids at a very young age. My parents coached me when I was barely able to run.” Through the encouragement of her parents, Kanani became a multisport athlete and played volleyball, basketball, ringette, hockey, soccer, swimming, and track & field. Through all the different sports she played, she found herself excelling at basketball and realized that’s where her heart lies. 


As Kanani continued to play basketball, her career started to take off. She found herself involved in experiences she could only dream of. At only 15 years old, Kanani uprooted her life and moved to Toronto to attend a prestigious private prep school, where she received a scholarship to play basketball, “this was an amazing opportunity for me and my future; [however] the biggest challenge was deciding to leave home when I was only 15 years old. Leaving the comforts of home and the love and support of my parents was the hardest decision I had ever made. I left all that I knew, my school, my friends, my family, it was truly a heartbreaking decision to make, but ultimately, I knew that I had to take this opportunity and make the best of it.” Not long after, she was playing the Canletes All-Star All-Canadian Game in Toronto, which spotlights the best players across the nation, was nominated as the Player of the Year in Canada, and received the viaSport Indigenous Youth Legacy Fund (IYLF) grant.


As Kanani’s career progressed and she became a more established athlete, challenges came alongside opportunities. Kanani recalls, “…when I became an elite basketball player, some coaches did not support me, and they showed it by how they treated or talked down to me.” Unfortunately, throughout Kanani’s sport journey, she faced discrimination from some coaches and officials, who were meant to support her growth. “I felt that the support I received came with conditions. As long as I stayed below the bar, I was fine. When I became an elite athlete, I was no longer receiving the support I did initially.” 


Kanani did not let these negative experiences discourage her. Instead, Kanani looked for coaches who would support her as she continued to excel and embrace her Indigenous heritage. 


Kanani continued to shine on the court and received more opportunities to travel around North America to play basketball. With these opportunities came more expenses, and Kanani needed to figure out different ways to assist with travel and equipment costs. Kanani first heard about the IYLF through friends and family, “I applied for the grant to assist with my travel costs throughout North America.” She explains the impact this grant has had on her and her family, “my parents have made significant financial sacrifices, so this grant was significant in assisting with my extensive travel.”


With the same positive attitude and drive that got her through many trials and tribulations, Kanani finished her high school basketball career and is fulfilling her dreams by attending the University of California Santa Barbara. She plays Division 1 Basketball and is working towards her law degree on a full-ride scholarship. Her goal is to positively impact her community by pursuing Indigenous Law and working to protect those who are underrepresented. By embracing opportunities for growth, overcoming challenges, and staying true to her heritage, Kanani has become the successful student-athlete she is today.