Midway through the Kalani girls basketball summer league, there’s are several teams that stand out.
The shining star of the league, though, might be host Kalani. The Lady Falcons had a successful 2017-18 season, but might surpass those achievements soon. The return of key contributors like center Kandyce Woods, point guard Heidi Kishaba and sharpshooter Alayna Akiona are major pluses. But the arrival of former Maryknoll standout Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole cemented rumors of her potential transfer.
Kalani coach Chi Mok has been as surprised as anyone about changes near and far. Kamakawiwo‘ole looked comfortable in Kalani’s uptempo system during wins over McKinley and St. Francis.
“She’s the complete package,” he said. “She can probably play 1 through 5.”
It was three years ago when Kamakawiwo‘ole, who has since been voted twice to the Star-Advertiser Girls Basketball All-State Fab 15, was set join the Kalani program. But she opted to attend Maryknoll, which went on to win three of its four consecutive ILH crowns with the 5-foot-10 wing in the lineup.
A year ago, there were rumors that she might transfer to Konawaena. She remained at Maryknoll, which reached the state final again, only to lose to the dynastic Konawaena Wildcats again. Now, Kalani has more momentum. It’s not the first time a standout player has come to the Falcons’ campus for senior year. A decade ago, Iwalani Rodrigues left Roosevelt and went to Kalani for her senior year, then went on to play at Utah. She is now a special education assistant and assistant basketball coach at West High School in Salt Lake City.
Courtney Gaddis departed from La Pietra and landed at Kalani for her final year. She played at Hawaii and is now a resident physician at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Coach Mok chatted with Hawaii Prep World after his team’s games on Saturday.
HPW: What week is this for the Kalani girls summer league?
Mok: We’re about halfway through. The first or second game, we played Kamehameha’s first team and that was a battle. They had Kalina (Obrey). We led most of the game and lost a close one. In the past, they’d beat us by 15, 20 points, so that was a good gauge for us.
HPW: It’s interesting that Punahou and Kahuku are not in this league or, apparently, any other summer league.
Mok: We invited them. They opted not to participate.
HPW: There have been stories swirling for awhile about Kamalu. Earlier this year, you heard stories, but nothing was concrete. Now she’s practicing and playing for Kalani.
Mok: My second year at Kalani, Kamalu and Daesha (Viela) were playing for Kaimuki Middle (School). That summer, Kamalu did practice with us, but I always knew she had opportunities on the table. We were still being considered.
HPW: What do you see in her as a senior-to-be that she didn’t have as a freshman?
Mok: Physically, she grew stronger. We’re trying to get her to develop that jumper from the free-throw line, take what the defense gives her. She’s the complete package. She can probably play 1 through 5.
HPW: I imagine she will really push her teammates at practice. She can battle Kandyce in the post, then cover your guards on the perimeter. Every day, pushing them.
Mok: Kandyce and Kamalu battle back and forth at practice. Whoever she’s guarding, if you put up a weak shot, she’ll block it. Slowly, she’s starting to take more of a leadership role instead of ‘I want to fit in.’
HPW: Last season’s team was fun to watch, so tough minded. But you lost Logan Luke, Kaylie Espinas, April Kochi and Chara Higaki to graduation. Now I watch your team in the summer and you’ve got some talented returnees plus some new players who have a lot of potential on your summer team.
Mok: We have Heidi, Daesha, Lile (Oyama). Mandi (Haraga) is an eighth grader and Maya is going to be seventh.
HPW: Alayna was so spectacular at times last season as a freshman. It’s been a sort of revelation to see her consistently driving hard to the basket this summer. She’s such a pure shooter from deep, but she’s fearless going to the bucket.
Mok: Between the coaches and her dad, she knows she’s got to develop her game off the dribble. She can get up. She’s athletic. There’s very few girls who can stay in the air for a putback, and I saw that with Alayna and Kamalu.
HPW: It’s too bad we won’t see Kalani play ‘Iolani this summer. I think those might be the best teams in the OIA and ILH next season.
Mok: The ‘Iolani summer league asked us to play, but our league is on the same days (Friday/Saturday) as theirs.
HPW: How about an exhibition fundraiser home-and-home series after summer leagues end.
Mok: There are a lot of players who will be traveling the week after summer league with their club teams.
HPW: Maybe after that?
Mok: We’ll see.