Atop a Big Red mountain: Kahuku reigns

Kahuku fans celebrated the Red Raiders' first boys basketball state title. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Kahuku fans celebrated the Red Raiders’ first boys basketball state title. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

There is no closet space for excuses, but there is a prayer closet for the devoted.

All the years that Kahuku had enough talent and schematics and willpower to capture a boys basketball state championship — three seasons of reaching the finals, to be exact — those elements were not quite enough. Three times, Kahuku fell at the hands of private-school programs with esteemed history and tradition.

2017 was different. The returning slate under second-year head coach Brandyn Akana was formidable enough. Laie-raised standout Samuta Avea was back from a one-year sojourn to Bingham (Utah), where he helped that program capture a state championship. He was back to his hometown, a place he tearfully left in 2015 after a bittersweet sophomore season under then-head coach Alan Akina.


The arrival of two imports sealed one of the most impressive rosters in Hawaii hoops history. After years of speculation within the local basketball community, the son of former Kamehameha great Kahi Villa was heading home. With Jessiya Villa, born and raised on Oahu until moving with his family to Virginia, back home, it was just a matter of where. The logical fit: playing for his uncle, Brandyn Akana, at Kahuku. Avea was a known quantity, a tall, rangy and explosive natural on the basketball court who could outrebounded the biggest centers in youth leagues, and then go coast-to-coast, gliding and striding faster than the quickest little guards for layups. Now, at 6-foot-6, springy and unstoppable, throwing down one-handed alley-open passes above the rim at will.

Villa? Barely anyone in the islands knew what he could, and he did perhaps more than any point guard in recent memory since Miah Ostrowski of Punahou.

Then came Dan Fotu, younger brother of former UH player Isaac Fotu. Growing in Auckland, New Zealand, Fotu was playing with the junior national team at a tournament in Fiji before boarding a flight to Hawaii. His first practice was on the Monday before the ‘Iolani Classic, where he came off the bench and still was a significant contributor as the Red Raiders won three of four games against mainland powerhouses and finished third in the tourney.

Kahuku guard Jessiya Villa is first to cut the net down after a 70-55 win over Punahou in the state title game. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
Kahuku guard Jessiya Villa is first to cut the net down after a 70-55 win over Punahou in the state title game. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Between Avea, the 6-7 Fotu and Villa, there was a natural chemistry that took very little time to turn into results. Defensively, with guards Codie Sauvao and Kesi Ah-Hoy, and forward Taimona Wright (6-4), Kahuku had one of the finest defensive teams in years.

But it almost wasn’t to be. Avea suffered a dislocated ankle during the summer, and it took immense rehab to get back to form by preseason. He was still in some pain and clearly not his old self at that point in an early preseason loss at St. Francis. Avea never stopped, however, saying that if he could do nothing more than rebound and play defense, so be it. Two months later, he was selected the all-tournament most outstanding player at the state championships.

Kahuku senior swingman Samuta Avea whoops it up with his team as he clutches the state championship trophy. (Feb. 17, 2017) Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
Kahuku senior swingman Samuta Avea whoops it up with his team as he clutches the state championship trophy. (Feb. 17, 2017) Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

If Avea was the most outstanding player, Villa may well have been the most valuable, but he, too, had to overcome adversity. His injury problems were almost unsurmountable, in hindsight. During a preseason matchup with Punahou, the Buffanblu left Kahuku’s gym with a 67-57 victory. The bigger loss, however, could have been a dislocated collarbone suffered by Villa that wasn’t disclosed until after the state tournament.

“It was a tough year for him. No one knew he played with a dislocation in his collarbone,” his father, Kahi Villa, wrote in a text. “We didn’t let it out because we didn’t want the teams to use it to their advantage. The trainers at Kahuku worked so hard to keep him healthy, then when he suffered the concussion, they had double duty trying to get him back 100 percent.”


Against Kailua in the OIA semifinals, however, Villa was suddenly sidelined by a concussion suffered the week before at practice, the very place where Akana and his team took great pride in simulating and exceeding normal workouts at hyper-intensity levels. Akana said Villa was cleared to play, but opted to sit him out for one more game. Kahuku escaped with a comeback 42-40 win over Kailua. A state berth wasn’t at risk that night, but it was a vivid window into what life without their skilled point guard would and could be like.

“To me, the fact that he was able to do what he did, at his height, with the injury to the shooting side collarbone, was crazy,” Kahi Villa wrote. “So many talked about his bad free-throw shooting percentage, but not knowing the issues that he was going through. He just brushed off all that negativity.”

Kekaula Kaniho comforts teammate Jessiya Villa after Kahuku defeated Punahou in the boys basketball state finals. (Feb. 17, 2017) Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser
Kekaula Kaniho comforts teammate Jessiya Villa after Kahuku defeated Punahou in the boys basketball state finals. (Feb. 17, 2017) Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Eight days later, the Red Raiders had both an OIA championship and a first-ever state crown. The state final was textbook: 23 points and seven boards, three assists and just two turnovers by Villa in 32 minutes; 20 points, 11 rebounds — six on the offensive glass — with 6-for-6 shooting at the free-throw line, four blocks and just one turnover by Avea; 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one block by Fotu; Ah-Hoy and Sauvao limiting Punahou’s key scorers, Chris Kobayashi and Zayne Chong, to a combined 23 points on 9-for-27 shooting.

Kahuku’s bench played just eight minutes, an unusually low number, but it was efficient. Reserve guard Kekaula Kaniho had six big points in the third quarter as Kahuku kept momentum rolling. They played their game, hot and fast from the start, controlled and aggressive in halfcourt, shot 48 percent from the field (22-for-46), 22-for-33 from the foul line (67 percent), committed just eight turnovers and outrebounded Punahou 37-28.

Beyond this, there was unexpected precision from Ah-Hoy, who nailed three treys in the first quarter and scored 17 points in an 87-45 quarterfinal win over Kalaheo. There was the overtime highlight reel against ‘Iolani by Fotu, who sat most of regulation with foul trouble, then scored the first six points of extra play as Kahuku eked out a 51-48 victory in the semifinals. It was, more than likely, the most epic game of the tournament, a clash between two elite posts in ‘Iolani’s Hugh Hogland and Fotu.

Without much doubt, the 2016-17 Kahuku team ranks among the best in state history on both sides of the court. Punahou ranks among the best runner-ups as well, a team that earned its way with clutch victories from preseason through the regular season and into the ILH tiebreakers and playoffs.


In the end, only two questions remained: Will Fotu return to Auckland and back to Kahuku for senior year? And will Akana, the former college assistant coach who was basically ostracized, then made the most of a second chance in Red Raider nation, be back for a third season as head coach?

Neither could answer yes, and neither could answer no. The only question that mattered to Kahuku fans is, who won the boys basketball championship in 2017? The answer is in their grasp now, shared by coaches and players with absolute devotion to each other.

COMMENTS

  1. Breathe&Stop February 22, 2017 2:20 pm

    Look at all the athletes out of Kahuku who go on to play division 1 and obviously they have to clear NCAA academic requirements. Even on this years basketball team, there are at least 3 guys commited to play at D1s. Not many other teams could boast that this season on one team. The pg has a 4.2gpa, too.


  2. JetWavy February 22, 2017 2:27 pm

    @SpecialEducation First

    The moment i realized you were a bozo was when you were on here making excuses for ‘Iolani’s semi final loss because they have lots of homework to do. For someone who is all about facts, figures, concrete evidence, you sure got your panties in a bunch when an anonymous poster put out pure hearsay about a players visa and eligibility without even giving credible sources. Only conclusion i have for the relentless animosity is back in hs, you lost your girl to a Kahuku player maybe?


  3. Education First February 22, 2017 2:40 pm

    JetWavy February 22, 2017 at 2:27 pm
    @SpecialEducation First

    ——————————–
    Why would you attempt humor by using the term “special education” when most of your children are special education students? How insensitive of you. And not very creative either.

    But here’s one thing I did notice. You still didn’t prove my data wrong. I am getting the impression that you are unable to.

    Haha, you are too easy.

    Who’s next?


  4. Sole February 23, 2017 6:46 am

    I’m thinking, why is this person posting on an athletic forum? Clearly you value education first, which is a good thing! But I’m still wondering why you spend so much time on this forum. Isn’t there a math, science, or geek squad forum somewhere? I’m pretty sure your high intellect, or as you point out in other posts (like the one on Mufi’s Jamboree, where you say that you were privied to an email with special information about a club coach) your ability to obtain special information, would serve the community better on more important issues. This is an athletic forum that’s probably not intellectual enough for you. If you need anymore education, come to Palolo Housing. Any one of us out here will be more then willing to educate you in a way that you’ve probably never been educated before…


  5. Education First February 23, 2017 7:18 am

    @Sole, you are #242 maam. It is interesting you too are unable to prove my data is flawed. As for Palolo, I volunteered at the Hale for several years mentoring the keiki there. I have never been educated “in a way that I have never been eduated before.” I was the one educating and you probably should thank me since I was probably one of the few people that cared about your kid, probably much more than you did based on your method of writing.

    Sole writes, “Isn’t there a math, science, or geek squad forum somewhere?” This ignorant comments just shows your lack of appreciation for higher education. So you think that if you a fascinated with math, science, or education that you are a geek? Well, it’s those geeks that you call boss.

    You better get off this forum soon and get to work. The burgers at McDonald’s need flipping soon. Say hi to the geek there, better known as your boss.


  6. Sole February 23, 2017 10:51 am

    Here I am, complimenting your intelligence and suggesting that you put it to better use and you are quick to be so defensive. Again, amazing that you also are able to volunteer in Palolo amongst all of the other things that you are top dog at. Amazing. I can only wish my kid played for Kahuku this year! When they are old enough, I will definitely pick a school that is able to give my kids what you have. Could you provide that school name please, because I want my kids to be able be an expert like you are, in every post in this forum. I tell you, I would think that you’d be making millions somewhere with all this knowledge and all of your connections, but no….no way, you are generosly sharing your mana’o with all of us athletic geeks! Yea, and my 7-11 in Waipahu is doing pretty well. I have no boss, maam….


  7. Education First February 23, 2017 1:08 pm

    Sole February 23, 2017 at 10:51 am
    Here I am, complimenting your intelligence and suggesting that you put it to better use and you are quick to be so defensive. Again, amazing that you also are able to volunteer in Palolo amongst all of the other things that you are top dog at. Amazing. I can only wish my kid played for Kahuku this year! When they are old enough, I will definitely pick a school that is able to give my kids what you have. Could you provide that school name please, because I want my kids to be able be an expert like you are, in every post in this forum. I tell you, I would think that you’d be making millions somewhere with all this knowledge and all of your connections, but no….no way, you are generosly sharing your mana’o with all of us athletic geeks! Yea, and my 7-11 in Waipahu is doing pretty well. I have no boss, maam…
    ——————–

    That is pretty cool that your boss at McDonald’s allows you to go on the work computer during your break. Are you tired of hearing, “Ma’am may I have that supersized.” See what happens when you don’t take your schooling seriously. You have limited options.

    As for volunteering, it is called time management and allowing your directors and managers to do their work so I have more free time on my hand.

    As for schooling, there are many fine schools out there such as Punahou, Mid Pacific, Iolani, HBA, etc. I am sure you can ask around and find out for yourself.

    As for making money, I am pretty content. I do not need to answer to anyone, well except our shareholders every quarter. But then again, when you make what I do, you often got to answer to someone. I don’t expect you to understand flipping burgers.

    And to show your ignorance, if you owned a 7-11, you would own a franchise. Therefore you are still subjected to certain rules and obligations as being a part of a franchise. Therefore you would actually have a boss or bosses.

    Yeah you surely own a 7-11 (wink wink).

    HAHA, thanks for making me smile. That was pathetic. And your lack of knowledge probably works on your friends. HAHA.


  8. Education First February 23, 2017 1:16 pm

    @ Sole, I challenge you to prove that my data regarding Kahuku’s low academics is incorrect.

    Can you do that? Or can you just come up with entertaining things for me to read? Now if you want to be my token joker, I can pay you. I am assuming you are making less than $10/hour working at McDonalds. I’ll double the $10 and give you $20/hour to sit and tell me jokes. I will even provide you with a company car and HMSA (non HMO, since we all know you roll HMO’s only).

    Let me know.


  9. SMDH@TheseComments February 23, 2017 2:23 pm

    @Education First
    Ridiculing hard working people because they work for $10/hr? Classy. I’ve read your comments on many posts and it seems like your sole purpose is to avert attention away from the article and to the comments section. Particularly, in Kahuku-related articles. I, too, thought that your comment blaming Iolani’s loss to Kahuku partly resulting because of homework was a riot. In the last Kahuku-related article, you said it was rumored that 3 of Kahuku’s leading scorers would return to join their previous school’s basketball teams so that they could play in another state tournament? Who does that? Never heard of it. You thrive off of hearsay and rumors. You seem so smug you probably pass gas and enjoy the aroma. Get your head out of your ass. This whole thread, you’ve come off very prick-ish.


  10. Education First February 24, 2017 8:36 am

    @ SMDH, So what I am reading is that you too are unable to dissect and prove that my data is flawed or inaccurate. So instead of discussing the scientific data, you make a feeble attempt to interject insults and name calling to camouflage that you are unable to show the blogging community that my theory and argument is incorrect.

    Thank you for showing our audience that you are not intelligent enough to be objective and debate. I would applaud you for the insults, but they are pretty tired and over-used. Can you at least attempt to use new and creative material when you insult me? At least entertain us.

    Please try harder and not take other people’s ideas without properly citing your sources.

    But hey, at leasat you tried. I mean not very well, but you get a D+ for effort and a F for originality.

    Keep them coming. Hopefully your next batch of insults will be more humorous and insulting.

    Guys, don’t you love how people have to go off the path with hopes of persuading people without proving me wrong?

    I provide so much data and no one can prove me wrong. I wonder why?


  11. NS February 24, 2017 8:54 am

    I’m sure you realize that a majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 athletics which requires clearing NCAA clearinghouse regulations? Look at the basketball team alone, 3 guys have already signed D1 scholarships. No mention of that, though. You’re obsessively concerned with the testing scores to try and downplay the entire school and somehow you want to tie that into their athletic accomplishments. Well, how did it feel to have your team (because obviously you have one and it definitely isn’t Kahuku) get beaten by a school where the testing is below average according to your stats? You are a troll in every sense of the word.


  12. Education First February 24, 2017 9:06 am

    NS February 24, 2017 at 8:54 am
    I’m sure you realize that a majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 athletics which requires clearing NCAA clearinghouse regulations? Look at the basketball team alone, 3 guys have already signed D1 scholarships. No mention of that, though. You’re obsessively concerned with the testing scores to try and downplay the entire school and somehow you want to tie that into their athletic accomplishments. Well, how did it feel to have your team (because obviously you have one and it definitely isn’t Kahuku) get beaten by a school where the testing is below average according to your stats? You are a troll in every sense of the word.
    ———————————-
    So scoringlive reported that about 8 or 10 (sorry if I forgot the exact number) will have college scholarships from Kahuku.

    So given that the average graduating class for Kahuku is about 240, you are telling me 0.03 – 0.0416 is the percentage that you are using to support your argument?

    WOW! I mean you are trying to use math to strengthen your argument and it is really flawed. But you do have the right to think that 0.03 – 0.0416 of Kahuku’s graduating class will pass the NCAA Clearing House in order to be eligible to play.

    And you do know that standards to clear the NCAA Clearinghouse isn’t that high. That is why numerous athletes from low income areas on the mainland have students who play college sports that can pass.

    What is the level now to be eligible? I will find it for you and post it in my next post. I believe it’s quite low.

    HAHA, this is your argument? Once again, WOW!


  13. Education First February 24, 2017 9:26 am

    NS February 24, 2017 at 8:54 am
    I’m sure you realize that a majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 athletics

    ————————-

    So are you saying that both the Star Advertiser and scoringlive’s reporting and numbers are incorrect? You say the majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 sports. That means 51% or more go to college to play D1 sports.

    Given that Kahuku has about 18-20 sports they enter in, each team having 10 or more participants, that would mean in a given year Kahuku fields about 200-250 athletes in grades 9-12. I am going to assume that some kids play multiple sports. I am sorry but I don’t have that specific information.

    But going on a quick estimation of athletes, you are telling us that 100 or more athletes from Kahuku play a D1 sport in college? WOW! That is more than Cal Poly, Punahou, Morse, Mater Dei, etc.

    What is Sports Illustrated doing? They rated Punahou the #1 High School Sports Program in America. Going on your comment, we all got it wrong since based on your statement and data, Kahuku puts over 100 kids into D1 sports over a 1-2 year span.

    That is amazing!


  14. Education First February 24, 2017 9:31 am

    NS February 24, 2017 at 8:54 am
    I’m sure you realize that a majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 athletics which requires clearing NCAA clearinghouse regulations? Look at the basketball team alone, 3 guys have already signed D1 scholarships. No mention of that, though. You’re obsessively concerned with the testing scores to try and downplay the entire school and somehow you want to tie that into their athletic accomplishments. Well, how did it feel to have your team (because obviously you have one and it definitely isn’t Kahuku) get beaten by a school where the testing is below average according to your stats? You are a troll in every sense of the word.
    ——————————-

    @ NS, here is the link for the NCAA Division I Initial-Eligibility Requirements: http://fs.ncaa.org/Docs/eligibility_center/Quick_Reference_Sheet.pdf

    So you can be eligible with a 2.0 (yes a C average) and 1020 on the SAT.

    HAHAHA! So you are telling me since some athletes can get a 2.0 GPA and score 1020 on the SAT that means they are smart?

    I mean, I could understand if you told me 3.0 and a 1200 which is decent. But 2.0 and 1020? Most Punahou and Iolani kids could score that after 1 minute off sleep, given half of the allotted time, and high off Codeine.

    C’mon man, you need to do better than that if you are doing to spit numbers. At least make sure the numbers are high, not below average….

    #wow


  15. Education First February 24, 2017 11:00 am

    @SMDH, and yet after all of your opinions, you are unable to prove me wrong. LOL.

    Maybe take a night class? Amazing how so many new posters appear. #CLASSIC


  16. Education First February 24, 2017 12:01 pm

    NS February 24, 2017 at 8:54 am
    I’m sure you realize that a majority of Kahuku’s athletes go on to play Division 1 athletics which requires clearing NCAA clearinghouse regulations? Look at the basketball team alone, 3 guys have already signed D1 scholarships.
    ——————
    Now are you talking about D1 Basketball Scholarships or D1 Scholarships in general? If it’s basketball, please let us know who are the other 2 players who got D1 basketball scholarships and what schools offered them so we can check if it’s true.


  17. The Watcher February 25, 2017 8:44 am

    Crazy


  18. Hercules Mafuni February 26, 2017 11:04 am

    Samuta jessiya and fotu are the best in the state at their respective positions. If fotu played the whole game without foul trouble they woulda pounced iolani. Their better than every fan in the ilh and their coaching is better than any coach as well


  19. Redlentless Fan February 28, 2017 8:53 pm

    Hercules – you think? Villa and Avea no doubt amongst the best. But Fotu? He got in foul trouble against Iolani because he was guarding Hogland and probably for the first time all season he was up against another player with skills and height. I’m a Kahuku fan, but let’s call it like it is. Kahuku wouldn’t have “pounced” on Iolani if he didn’t get in foul trouble. He got in foul trouble BECAUSE he didn’t know how to handle Iolani. But PROPS to him for coming back into the game ready to PLAY. That showed what kind of player he CAN be. And are the Kahuku coaches awesome? Sure. But there are a lot of awesome coaches in both the OIA and ILH. But that being said, easy to he awesome coaches when you’re coaching studs. LET’S KEEP IT REAL.


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