India Pagan is in the bonus.
The 22-year-old graduate forward could have walked away from Stony Brook last year at the pinnacle of her career after leading the Seawolves to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth and earning plenty of individual accolades along the way.
Instead, she exercised her fifth year of eligibility — offered by the NCAA to remedy for the upended 2020 season — and improve on what she felt was a poor performance in her senior year.
“[First-year head coach Ashley Langford], she called me and she really convinced me,” Pagan said in an interview with The Statesman. “I felt like I could have had a better year. And I was like, why not just take this opportunity to … come back for another year and finish with another game.”
Pagan’s senior year was disappointing based only on the lofty precedents she set for herself. She averaged nine points and five rebounds with a .469 field goal percentage to earn a spot on the All-America East Second Team.
In the America East championship game against Maine, she had seven rebounds and a team-high five turnovers to help Stony Brook clinch an NCAA Tournament berth. An injury limited her to 12 minutes in Stony Brook’s first-round loss in the tournament, but she appeared on an even bigger stage just months later.
Pagan competed in the Tokyo Olympics this summer as the second-youngest member of the Puerto Rican team, the first active Stony Brook athlete ever to do so. Playing against Belgium on July 29, Pagan came off the bench to score six points and grab two rebounds in nine minutes.
“I still can’t believe it,” Pagan said. “I wake up and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m an Olympian.’ It was just a beautiful experience. I’m so happy and blessed.”
The Olympics were a learning experience off the court as well. Pagan met world-class players like Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, who she calls her “idol.”
“I learned a lot about myself, about my game, my level of confidence — just to keep it up,” Pagan said. “I usually — I wouldn’t say I get down, but I have my confidence as high as possible going into this season because it is my last one, and I want to really give it all I have.”
So now that she’s reached nearly every goal there is for a Stony Brook athlete, what is Pagan looking to accomplish this season?
“Besides winning the championship, obviously, make it to the NCAA Tournament, which goes with the championship,” Pagan said. “And just striving for a Player of the Year is probably one of my biggest goals for the season.”
She’ll have her work cut out for her if she plans to have a career year. Already the owner of the highest career field goal percentage in program history (.512), Pagan’s best season came as a junior in 2019. She averaged 13.4 points and six rebounds on .506 shooting, garnering All-America East First Team honors. In fact, last season was the first time Pagan had a field goal percentage below .500.
But Pagan’s contributions to the team last year went beyond scoring. Opposing defenses planned their game script around Pagan like never before, often cutting off the open looks she usually gets inside the paint. That attention opened up shooting lanes for players like senior guard Annie Warren, who averaged 10.6 points per game and shot .326 from three-point range.
This time Pagan will play without guard Hailey Zeise, her teammate since freshman year who opted not to return for a fifth season.
“We definitely miss Hailey,” Pagan said. “But we have a lot of new players, a lot of talent. So we’re just trying to piece all the pieces of the puzzle together, and I’m so excited.”
According to her coach, Pagan should have no trouble leading the team without Zeise. Langford said that Pagan’s “amazing” experience at the Olympics taught her what it’s like to push through the frustration of not winning every game.
“India’s a nurturer,” Langford said. “Everyone on the team has some type of relationship with her. She’s very warm and calming, and that’s important as far as leadership because you need that piece. She understands the ebbs and flows of the season.”
Pagan also has a chance to tie the program record for games started. With 92 starts already and 29 games on the schedule this year, Pagan would need to start every game to match Brittany Snow’s record of 121. She could miss up to five games and still rank second on the list.
But once she finally hangs up her jersey, Pagan wants to be remembered as something more than just her statistics.
“That I’m just a genuine person, I’m a good teammate,” Pagan said of what she wants her legacy to be. “I get the job done on the floor, and I’m just very filled with love.”