Akina: Transfers’ paperwork confirmed

Kahuku head coach Alan Akina has his group ready for the playoffs. Kat Wade / Special to the Star Advertiser
Kahuku head coach Alan Akina has his group ready for the playoffs. Kat Wade / Special to the Star Advertiser

Friday, 3:15 p.m. Updates with information from OIA.
Friday, 4:30 pm Updates with a return call from Maryknoll.

Moments after a convincing 75-59 win at Kaimuki — not that observers and fans needed any convincing — Kahuku coach Alan Akina reflected on his team’s progress.

It’s been roughly four weeks since his young team was buoyed by the arrival of three transfers from New Zealand. They came to Kahuku just as the regular season was about to begin. Since then, chemistry has developed steadily.

“Well, they’re starting to learn our plays now,” Akina said. “We got Kesi Ah-Hoy back and he’s great off the bench. He’s getting into basketball shape. Our kids are playing together. I think we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Kahuku, ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, is now 8-1 in league play (12-3 overall), including a narrow loss to No. 1 Kalaheo. They just get better each time out.

“The first half, we ran 10 percent or 20 percent of our stuff,” Akina said. “We’re getting there. We just need more practice time. Defensively, we’re getting better. That’s what we put a lot of effort on. We’re working on our man, we’re working on our zone and playing really big.”

True, true, true. Kahuku likes to stay in a 2-3 zone, using its length to match up on shooters. It’s quite Syracuse-ish and Jim Boeheim-ian with a quintet of 6-7, 6-5, 6-3, 6-2 and 5-10 on the floor defending. For a stint in the second half, Akina switched his team into a stifling man-to-man look that was occasionally vulnerable to Kaimuki’s slashers — mostly after Kahuku subs were in the game.

“We make it hard for teams to score, make them shoot deep,” he said.

Their versatile 6-5, 250-or-so-pound post, Hyrum Harris, can’t get a break when penetrators attack the paint. He has collected a pile of fouls on collisions, many of them being close to charging calls, but always ruled blocking fouls.

“It’s kind of like with Shaq. You don’t really move. People bounce off you and they call a foul,” Akina said.

It doesn’t help whether Harris, who is nimble for his size, tries to sell a charging call by rolling with the contact.

“We tried that before and it was even worse, so we just play it straight,” Akina said.

Although Samuta Avea and Keanu Akina — and injured Hirkley Latu (out of the season) — are terrific players, the talk among many in the basketball community has been about the Kiwis. the Rugby League-loving Harris; Denhym Brooke, a 6-7 jumping jack, shot blocker, mad dunker and underrated shooter; and 6-2 Tamamoko Green, who was held out of regular-season play until recently.

Brooke played for North Harbour in the 2013 national championships. (Note: Guess who’s face is on the front of Basketball New Zealand’s website? Here’s a hint: 42.)

In the same tournament, Green played for Rotorua, coached by his father, Jeff.

In the summer of 2014, Harris played for Rotorua, averaging 21 points in five games while being named MVP of the national championships. Green averaged 8.2 points per game.

Rotorua defeated Waikato 76-72 for the national crown. In this Rotorua Daily Post photo (and story) about the title game, Green is sitting up front while Harris is at far right, flashing a double shaka.

Brooke again played for North Harbour, scoring 9.6 points per game in five contests. North Harbour finished fifth.

At Kahuku, Harris is a double-double machine, averaging 12 points per game in league play. Brooke is averaging 15 points per game, including 21 in the win at Kaimuki with a handful of dunks.

Nationwide accolades aside, there’s no rule in the OIA or HHSAA that prohibits international transfers from playing in the islands immediately. Some of the chatter is out of curiosity. Some of it is sarcastic. One coach calls Kahuku “the illegal aliens,” which is a little mean, but also a bit coincidental since I actually described Kahuku’s image (in boys basketball) as Darth Maul, the spooky red-and-black killing machine in Star Wars mythology. That’s how unpopular the Red Raiders have become with some opposing fans and coaches. (That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax considering plenty of powerhouse schools in many sports receive talented transfers.)

Most of the dialogue isn’t hateful or personal. But some of the talk I hear borders on anger. Furious anger. Why? The line of questioning — I’ve gotten my share of input from folks in person, by phone, by various means of communication (no smoke signals, though) — sometimes includes no complimentary view of the transfers.

The line of questioning goes like this, more or less.

1. How can Tama Green play for any high school when he was listed as a junior two years ago at Maryknoll?

This is THE question I get most, and my response is that I thought I saw him listed as a sophomore that season. But whatever the case, the answer is not simple. This is because there’s a completely different system of time in the NZ educational system. They go by “forms” while we go by semesters and quarters.

To make things even more complicated, their system was changed at least once over the past few years. What we call freshman year might be a totally different term or timing by the Kiwis.

That being said, Green was held out of three OIA games during the first two weeks of league play. Only in the past two weeks, when his paperwork was confirmed — some say after his father returned from the homeland with said formal papers — did Akina reinsert the quick, long point guard back into the lineup. But Akina says the paperwork was delivered by Maryknoll, the previous local school that Green and Harris attended.

Was Green a sophomore two years ago? Or a junior? For me, the question isn’t what he was during that season at Maryknoll — Harris was there, too — even though it seems like that’s what the ultimate question is.

No, the key is this: When he began ninth grade, was it in 2011 or 2010? The reason, as most coaches and administrators will tell you, that the eligibility clock for all varsity student-athletes begins with freshman year. If he began in ’10, this would be his fifth year of high school — ineligible.

Kahuku knows this quite well after the controversial ban/suspension/ineligibility of its football team in the ’10 season due to the use of a player who may or may not (the OIA has never ruled officially on this detail) have been in his fourth or fifth year of high school.

If Tama Green began high school, or the equivalent of ninth grade, in 2011, this would be his senior year by American standards.

2011-12 – Freshman
2012-13 – Sophomore
2013-14 – Junior
2014-15 – Senior. To graduate in ’15. I(f he’s still here, which he probably won’t. But that’s besides the point.)

Akina, Kahuku’s first-year head coach, is prepared to answer questions, even though he could easily refrain since there is no investigation by the league, and won’t be one. Green is technically and formally eligible to play. Akina believes it’s a fact that Green began high school in 2011.

“Yes. That’s the bottom line,” he said.

Note: For the record, Maryknoll athletic director Ben Valle said that Green’s situation was unique.

“He was a hybrid kid taking some sophomore and junior classes to move him along faster. He was advanced. Age-wise, he was a sophomore,” Valle said on Friday afternoon. “There was a chance to graduate within two years. Hyrum was straight-out a sophomore. That’s what I recall.”

Any opportunity to look deeper into Green’s class standing would’ve waited until after the 2012-13 season, but when he left, that made any further discussion null and void.

Here, Green is listed as a player for Fraser High School in 2011. He scored 14 points in a win over Saint Kentigem during the national high school championships. According to Akina, the school has taken all precautions to make sure there is no administrative boo-boo. Again.

“You’ve seen what happened to us before with the football team. Oh, there’s absolutely no way our administration would let anything through knowing what we went through as a school and community, what they had to deal with, they would never let that through,” he said.

2. Maryknoll was and is too smart to get Tama Green’s eligibility and grade messed up in 2012-13.

Well, that’s not a question, I know. But that’s the follow-up I get. A statement. Could Maryknoll’s administration have gotten it wrong two years ago. Was Green a sophomore or junior?

So I asked Akina, who added that, yes, even Maryknoll confirmed that Green should’ve been listed as a sophomore two years ago.

“Maryknoll had the correct paperwork and sent it to our school. (Two years ago) they did it wrong. They just put it down wrong,” Akina said.

Green is scoring just 3 points per game, but his court vision, passing skills and defensive length are a big plus for Kahuku. With Alohi Gilman (ankle) out for at least another week, Green’s presence fills the gap in the starting lineup and then some.

3. International pipeline. Now, we could splinter off into another branch or two of questions about whether a player who has graduated in another country should be allowed to play sports in America — regardless of whether this is the case with Kahuku’s Kiwis.

Technically, any athlete can do what the Kiwis did: play their senior season in another state or country, transfer to Hawaii, and play the sport again. April Atuaia did this several years ago, arriving from Orem, Utah after starring for her high school there in the winter. Then she played hoops for the Kahuku girls team in the spring, back when Hawaii girls basketball was played in the spring. (And what an awesome thing that was for so many reasons.)

Atuaia went on to start for the University of Hawaii.

Note: The OIA later changed its rule possibly of the April Atuaia situation, league executive Raymond Fujino said. Fujino didn’t take the helm until 2011. Atuaia played at Kahuku in ’00.

According to the OIA by-laws:

“No student shall participate in hhsaa activities in more than four seasons in any one activity, and not more than three seasons in one activity after entering the 10th grade.”

The OIA has been and continues to be a “self-reporting” league. In other words, other programs, coaches, parents and fans can point all the fingers they want at an individual school. At some point, yes, the weight of the combined pressure can take a toll. That’s how it usually works. Human nature is that powers-that-be respond when criticism gets too heavy. It doesn’t work the opposite way with praise; admins don’t have that word entrenched in their red-alert mechanism.

Putting out fires. That’s what admins often do. So, there are no fires here, apparently.

4. Myth or fact. Two years ago, Green’s father approached three basketball coaches, all in the OIA. This was after Green and Harris had parted ways with Maryknoll. According to one OIA coach, Green’s father asked to join the coaching staff with the promise of building a pipeline of talent from New Zealand to the islands. The answer from all three programs at the time was no.

Whether it happened or not is an anecdote, at best. There’s no rule or law against talking with coaches and/or administrators. As Harris said earlier in the season, coming to Kahuku was a matter of priorities: church and education.

However thick the questioning is with skepticism, the OIA is not going to investigate. Even if it wanted to, it doesn’t have the personnel to do it.

The school has seen the proper paperwork. Everything is good in Kiwi, um, Red Raider Nation.

We can have a little fun with it. Come on. If these three players weren’t so good, nobody would say a word.

“We have a transfer from Australia,” Akina said. “No one’s asked about him.”

It’s true. Though Akina said the Aussie, Raniera Smallman, played in the game last night, I had no idea he was from Down Under. Well, not until Akina brought this up and I asked for his name. He’s a reserve who scored one point against Kaimuki.

The Catch-22 for Kahuku is this: if Smallman scores 40 points one of these nights, that would be great news for the Red Raiders, but the reaction elsewhere would become a bit more seething.

The pipeline from Rotorua and North Harbour may cease after this season. Maybe administrators at Hawaii’s high schools will vote to curtail international transfers the way they’ve voted to force in-state transfers to sit a year, similar to the NCAA’s one-year requirement. (That new policy kicks in before the 2015-16 academic year.)

But there is one guarantee about this saga. What’s sweet in victory for Red Raider Nation will be sour for all those who stand in their way.

As tart as a kiwi fruit.


  1. Paper Crane January 31, 2015 5:37 pm

    Outstanding context like well written by a professional sportsman;..like you the man Alan, your context is written like an experience sportswriter and like your explanations are only reader friendly and like your context sure reads as the rest of the story along with the big picture and it’s impartial and cordial and like you would sure make an excellent Athletic Director some day. Only the unprofessional and poor losers will think as otherwise no brainers and so god bless you and yours and like best wishes at the State Finals.

  2. kaiserball February 3, 2015 8:30 pm

    I grew up in New Zealand and so called graduation happens in December. So one has to assume the players from New Zealand have graduated high school already ?
    If so then how are they eligible?
    Not being a hater, just wondering?

  3. Ilhmama February 12, 2015 1:41 am

    Tama Green just turned 19, does that make him ineligible for the post season?

  4. Paul Honda February 12, 2015 2:08 pm

    If you begin the academic year at age 18, you are eligible to play in the HHSAA state championships.

  5. slavio slavaratz March 4, 2015 4:52 pm

    Kahuku is recruiting Kiwis right now for next years football program.
    OIA needs to stop this behavior NOW.

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