Brandon Chung approaches life with full gusto.
That in itself doesn’t make him unique. His deafness does that just fine. He was 2 when a high fever led to a permanent loss of hearing, at least until he got older and underwent cochlear implant surgery. This allows him to hear quite clearly with his left ear.
What makes Chung, a sophomore at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind, special is that he has become a clutch contributor at a young age for the Kalani Falcons. The 6-foot-2 sophomore scored 13 points, including 11 in the second half, to help Kalani capture its second OIA Division II boys basketball championship in as many years. Kalani begins play as the No. 2 seed in the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships on Wednesday.
“I really like his work ethic and how humble he is,” Kalani interim head coach Everett Frye said. “He’s relentless. He’s a hard worker and it shows when he plays on the court. He doesn’t get too down on himself, and he’s even-keeled. Kind of a Kawhi Leonard kind of emotions, doesn’t get to high or too low.”
Chung’s road began on Maui, and led to the Kahului Falcons. He was 12 years old, just learning the game as his frame — and his potential — grew. He began to attend HSDB, and as a freshman, he started playing for Kalani’s junior-varsity team since HSDB doesn’t have a basketball squad.
Following his freshman year, he went back to Maui for the summer and worked out both on the hardwood and the training table. His version included a lot of laulau and poi.
Chung returned to the dormitory at HSDB with a little more pep and plenty of confidence. Frye and his staff added Chung to the varsity roster and he delivered — near the bucket. One of Chung’s favorite players is Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors.
“For this year, I told him to dominate 6 feet and in,” Frye said. “But he already has the game to stretch. With his body size, I want him inside more than outside.”
Roosevelt coach Steve Hathaway saw his team battle hard after falling behind by nine points in the first half, but Chung helped Kalani grow its lead.
“He’s a good back-to-the-hoop player with very good post moves. He doesn’t get flashy and finished strong around the rim,” Hathaway said. “Strong kid.”
Chung said his GPA is 3.355. Yes, he knows his GPA down to the thousandth of one point, as some serious student do. In a month, Chung will get to represent HSDB in another type of competition: a Gallaudet University Academic Bowl. The West Coast Regional will be at Irvine, Calif.
“We practice for that by studying,” he said.
For more on Chung, check out today’s feature in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Kalani basketball, bowling
Q&A / Favorites
> Michael Jordan and Klay Thompson.
Are you a Klay Thompson when nobody’s watching?
> Yeah, naturally, yeah.
> Golden State Warriors
Food (at home)
> My mom, dad and brother make BBQ. And I like canned spinach.
Food (eating out)
> Hawaiian food. Laulau, kalua pig at a place called Poi by the Pound in Kahului.
Do you miss being home and eating Hawaiian food?
> Nah, but I do miss my Maui friends. During the basketball season I didn’t fly back every week. There’s games and I’m aware how much it costs the school to pay for my flights.
Hows the dorm food?
> It’s pretty good. During lunch I’ll eat in the cafeteria, but at night I’ll go to Rainbow Drive In and eat a poke bowl.
(Note: Coach Frye says Chung “loves BBQ beef and slush float.”
Hobby outside of sports
> Beach. On Maui, I go to Kalama Park in Kihei. My favorite beach here is Sandy Beach.
> Maze Runner: The Death Cure. I’m so emotionally into that movie. There’s been three maybe four films in the series. It’s good to see the teamwork between all the characters and it’s good to see an Asian actor also taking the lead to work together and escape the maze. It’s also interesting to see there’s a virus that turns people into zombies. They try to save everyone from becoming turned. Also, the role reversal, in the story there’s a lot of surprise where a female joins the group and they don’t know her history, then they find out her mother is involved.
Can you read lips?
> I’ll go to the movie theater with my cochlear implant and I can catch some of the words. When it comes out on the DVD version, I can get the whole story.
> I was born hearing, and then at 2, I had a high fever that caused my deafness. Nobody in my family is deaf. It’s not hereditary.
> My family is originally from Oahu. My dad told me Maui is more peaceful. No construction.
Do you remember the first time you started playing basketball?
> I was so awkward, I would drop the ball, it was so embarrassing. I was 12.
> Call of Duty, Black Ops III
> Bruno Mars and Eminem
How much hearing do you have?
> With my cochlear I can hear pretty clearly in my left ear.
Who is your favorite teacher?
> Lisa Silva (Pomaikai Elementary). Kepa Meno (Lokelani Middle. Brian Nakamoto (HSDB).
What is your grade-point average?
What is your favorite class?
> English, Math, Science and Social Studies.
Where is your favorite place to relax?
What is your favorite quote?
> Everybody is different. Everybody has different styles. Just do it the best way you know how. — Vince Carter.
How much do you miss your Kahului Falcons?
> I grew up with them. They’re like family. (They came here and watched our preseason game last year.)
What does your mom (Robin) say that you cannot forget?
> “Go upstairs. Sleep on time.”
What does your dad (Leslie) say that you cannot forget?
> “Play strong.”
What do you coaches say that you cannot forget?
> Coach (Everett) Frye says, “Play hard, practice free throws and get rebounds.”
How does basketball affect your life?
> “During the season, I have to juggle my studies, practice and take care of my dorm room. In the offseason, I have to keep up with my basketball training and studies. And fly home to Maui.
What teams have you played for?
> I played in Maui County Youth League, then the Menehune League. My club team is the Kahului Falcons. I have to keep my game up by working out year round.
Where have you travelled for sports?
> I traveled to Kona, Kauai and Oahu to play in basketball tournaments. This March, I got selected to participate in the (Gallaudet University West Region) Academic Bowl in Irvine, Calif. to compete against other schools. I got chose from a college interview out of 50 kids. We’re staying for eight to 10 days. Four boys and one girl from HSDB.
What are you good at that might surprise people?
> I’m good at playing with my kendama and riding my bike.
How many kendamas do you have?
> I got a lot, like 15. I suck at it now, but I used to be pretty good.
What is your bucket list for traveling like?
> I want to go watch my favorite NBA team, the Golden State Warriors, and my favorite players, and go see all the adventure parks. Maybe play pro basketball. I would like to be a business owner someday.
What is the history behind your name?
> Brandon is the name of my father’s good friend. My middle name, Kamalani, means to run like the wind, and Chung is my grandpa’s name.
> I want to thank my Kalani coaches and teammates for accepting me, and to HSDB for helping me with my life goals. And to all my Maui coaches for believing in me, especially coach Cliff Alakai of the Kahului Falcons.
Hawaii Prep World would like to thank Interpreter Danny Gong for a big assist in interviewing Brandon.