He is 6 feet, 9 inches tall.
There are plenty of reasons why Oscar Cheng could have spent his senior year in a comfort zone. At Sacred Heart Cathedral, he was a valued part of a squad that upset top-seeded Archbishop Mitty in the CIF playoffs.
“We had an up-and-down league season, and we made a special run and came together as a team. We upset the No. 1 team in the region, and we went on to win the Open Division sectional title. That was an exciting run,” Cheng said on Monday afternoon. “People didn’t even think we deserved to be in the Open Division, and we surprised everybody and won the whole thing.”
He has friends for life back in the Bay Area. Yet, here he is. Cheng, his younger brother Desmond — who is a 6-5 sophomore — and the rest of their family are now residing in Kaaawa. All for the pursuit of a dream.
“Oscar is interested in UH,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said.
“I’ve been here and the second you get here, everybody treats you like family,” Cheng said. “You do feel like you fit in right away. Might be a big change for a lot of people, but I felt comfortable right away.”
Cheng is well aware of the growing connection between Hawaii and Red Raider nation. Current Rainbow Warrior Samuta Avea was a dominant wing/post at Kahuku during the state-championship season in 2016. His classmate, Jessiya Villa, will enroll at Hawaii this fall after returning from a church mission. Tolu Smith, the 2018 All-State player of the year, is at Western Kentucky.
“I want to take this as far as I can go,” Cheng said. “My ultimate dream since I was younger is to play in the NBA, play pro basketball, and obviously the next step, my goal is to play Division I. I just love it here in Hawaii, and I like UH a lot. I heard a lot about great things about the program. They’re on the rise and they have a great culture. Coach (Eran) Ganot is doing great things.”
On tape, Cheng is a runner, a hustler who runs on the break and hits his putbacks.
“He’s long and athletic, throws it down from the wing,” said Akana, who has seen several of his Red Raiders move on to Division I college hoops.
Among them: Avea, Daniel Fotu (St. Mary’s) and Villa, the former All-State player of the year.
In person, Cheng is a blue-collar baller. He warms up with classic Mikan-drill layups. Then reverses. He has a clean, well-crafted drop-step move on the block, either side. Another move into the paint reveals a nice jump hook.
From the high post, he has a fairly reliable side-dribble jumper. He doesn’t use a jab step, but his first step to the basket is explosive. He finishes with a throwdown sometimes. Hoopsters this tall, at this age, sometimes don’t have a lot of athleticism and coordination. Cheng has quite a bit of bounce in his legs.
Cheng is far from a complete package, but the glimmers of potential are there. Getting from Point A to Point B might take 10,000 repetitions, but there is no doubt he is willing to get there.
As a center, he will have his way against most OIA competition. He runs the floor well, can finish in the paint. He wants more, though. His dream is to expand his range to the arc, to be consistent with the mid-range game. What he lacks in supreme skill, he will make up for with sheer work ethic.
Every morning, Cheng calls Akana. Cheng arrives at the old gym at BYU-Hawaii early in the day and works out, hour after hour after hour. It’s 90 degrees outside, but a cool, air-conditioned 72 or so in the gym, which doesn’t hurt. There are students now and then getting shots up in the middle of summer, but much of the time, he works out alone or with younger brother.
Cheng has no interest in football or any other sport. There are no distractions. There is school. There is basketball. There is his obsession with his hometown team, the Golden State Warriors. Be warned: bring up Kevin Durant and Cheng will assess the state of the Warriors in detail. If he, like most Warrior fans, is in anguish or pain, he hides it well. Yet, there’s a sense of therapeutic benefit just by talking about KD’s departure.
“I’ve been diehard since I was young. We’ve been going to games since the Monta Ellis days. I thought there might be a chance KD might stay. The dynasty is not over. We’ll just regroup and we’ll be back in a couple of years,” Cheng said. “The trade for D’Angelo (Russell) could work. It’s a high-scoring backcourt. I just think the concern is defense. You don’t have Klay (Thompson). You don’t have Dre (Andre Iguodala). Draymond (Green) is going to have to take a lot of weight on defense. I’ll say this, once Klay gets back in March or right before the playoffs, I don’t think anyone wants to play the Warriors in the playoffs with the championship pedigree they have.”
It’s just coincidental that Cheng has relocated at the same time an icon like Durant did.
“I’ve watched a lot of post players, but my favorite player has always been KD, someone who’s kind of in the middle. I like KG (Kevin Garnett) a lot. I like his mentality. His toughness,” Cheng said. “I’ve been inside around the basket and developed that post game. I’ve been coached around the basket and I have the mid-range. I’m working to developing my range and my handle to get more complete, more all-around.”
By Tuesday night, Cheng will be in flight, flying back to the mainland for summer tournament play. He and brother Desmond will be playing in three tournaments, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with his longtime club team, Bay City Warriors.
“I’ve lived there my whole life. I love it out here, but the Bay Area will always be where I’m from. I miss my friends there. Family is over there. I still miss my teammates. I’ll always have love for them. We had a special bond,” he said. “I’ll come back at the end of July before school.”
Cheng hasn’t had a chance to work out with his new teammates at Kahuku.
“I know it’s a football town and there’s a lot of talent. I know they won state a couple years back,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
This new chapter, uprooting to chase a dream, isn’t easy for any athlete, but Cheng is handling it with a lot of maturity.
“It hurts to have to leave my teammates and friends, but at the end of the day, this decision came with my family. They had to move out here and this was best for me,” he said.