Bay Area’s loss is Kahuku’s gain: 6-9 center Oscar Cheng

At 6-foot-9, Oscar Cheng will be one of the tallest players in Hawaii high school basketball history. Cheng transferred from the Bay Area to Kahuku along with younger brother Desmond, a 6-foot-5 sophomore. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

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.

COMMENTS

  1. Robocop July 2, 2019 11:43 am

    Lol god forbid kids within Hawai’i go to an ILH school.


  2. Yessir July 2, 2019 2:42 pm

    Love it! More competition for damien, the mighty monarchs, the better.


  3. Coach C July 2, 2019 3:14 pm

    Robo, actually Sagapolotelu came from out of State.


  4. HLI July 2, 2019 3:15 pm

    RE-rooted not recruited.


  5. JetWavy July 2, 2019 3:53 pm

    From the limited video on him, he doesn’t look nearly as good as Fotu or Tolu were. But he’ll still be dominant in Hawai’i, particularly the OIA off size alone. But unless Cheng absolutely kills it here in Hawai’i, I think he can expect a preferred walk-on spot to UH. However, this makes Kahuku a top contender again, but the difference in Akana’s two teams that went to the state final (in 2017 & 2018) was that the one in 2018 did not have nearly as legit a point guard like the one in 2017. That was the most evident difference between Kahuku being the OIA & State Champs vs the OIA & State runner-ups. BTW, why are people giving Damien the title of favorites going into next season? Because they won a D2 title?


  6. Poi Doughnut July 2, 2019 6:49 pm

    Let me guess. His cousin’s aunty’s neighbor’s former roomates’ mailman was born in Kahuku in 1965 so that makes him family.


  7. Anonymous July 2, 2019 8:05 pm

    @Jetwavy, Damien has 2 potential D1 Basketball athletes in Bryce forbes and Jake holtz, and I heard that Jake has been transitioning into a Guard, I watched him during a game and I can see huge improvement, and with them 2 with Guard skills, that’s a huge matchup problem for the island. Especially with the talented backcourt they have too.


  8. Forreal Pharrell? July 2, 2019 10:28 pm

    I’m not sure if I should laugh or feel bad for the kid? Forreal? He really move from Cali to Hawaii to play basketball? Whoever sold him on this must be the best salesman ever or recruiter. His size alone will make him look good in the oia where he’ll be a man among kids. Not sure how moving here, where the competition is weaker will give him a better shot of making it to UH. I guess he establishes residency so tuition will be only $11k instead of $20 something. Looks like he’s a traditional center at best without any range. Reaching d1 at this point will be a miracle at this point. I really don’t understand why leaving Cali where his club team is and where they won states is a better decision for him than staying. Someone please convince this poor young man what a bad decision he is making. Please, for the sake of the kid, don’t sell him out like this.


  9. JetWavy July 2, 2019 10:31 pm

    @Anonymous

    Other than yourself and maybe Damien rooters, who else is labeling either kid as “potential D1”? Their competition during regular season was not even the top division in Hawai’i basketball. They’re both juniors about to be seniors and by the end of their senior years would have only played one year of division 1 basketball in Hawai’i. By this time, if they truly are “potential D1”, they’ve got serious interest even offers especially at their height. Coaches aren’t dumb. They know full well who you’re putting up 20 against each night. I’ll be surprised if the local Division 2s are even interested. If the home D1 university isn’t interested, what other D1s in the country are rushing to Hawai’i to see who is carving up the lower tier divisions in prep basketball?


  10. Forreal Pharrell? July 2, 2019 10:32 pm

    Umm he’s definitely not the tallest high school basketball player in state history.. Hugh Hoagland was 6’10”, maryknoll had a 7 from Germany and Mililani had a 6’10 back in 07ish


  11. JetWavy July 2, 2019 11:09 pm

    @Forreal Pharrell?

    Hogland was more 6’9″. Tolu Smith was a legit 6’10”.


  12. J-Walker July 3, 2019 8:17 am

    Kahuku did nothing to make Tulo Smith better. What does Oscar think they can teach him besides the miken drill and alleyopps? Kahuku recruits players they don’t develop them.


  13. Loca1boiAnonymous July 3, 2019 7:34 pm

    J-Walker,

    Kahuku recruits and noone else? Give me a break. The only reason why Akana and Kahuku get the most flack for transfers is because he brings in way better talent than any other coach can. Who are the other programs in Hawai’i “developing” players? Last I checked, 4/5 division one recruits who played in Hawai’i in the last 3 years went through Akana.


  14. pakipark July 3, 2019 8:10 pm

    Welcome Oscar. One school year lifting weights with the Kahului HS Football O-lineman, D-linemen, and linebacking corp
    will do wonders for his strength.


  15. JetWavy July 5, 2019 8:01 am

    J-Walker…. Tolu Smith wasn’t brought to Kahuku to get developed. The kid was already a bonafide D1 talent before he came to the islands and had already committed to Western Kentucky before the season even began. He was brought here to bring Kahuku another state title. This Cheng kid, on the other hand, is not as polished as Smith. Not even close. He’s coming here to dominate an otherwise lower level of basketball in Hawai’i and hopefully look good for the local D1 university. I do agree he should have just stayed in California and played against stronger competition. If he really wanted the ins with Ganot, he should’ve got Ryan Silver from West Coast Elite to hype him up. Ganot seems to offer any kid Silver promotes to him.


  16. notes July 5, 2019 10:20 am

    let’s get one thing straight here. this isn’t from recruiting. kahuku doesn’t recruit. our community is strong and rooted in pride. if other people want to come in and be a part of this, then that’s their personal choice to be a part of our ohana. there’s a reason why we say red raiders for LIFE. you come into our community, and you always have a home so i’m not surprised oscar wants to come here.

    the big issue is the ILH recruiting and destroying the competitive balance of not only football but all other sports. What about cal lee admitting on HPW that he recruits? what about kale ane? what about kamehameha poaching st francis players after the school shut down? the ILH rot runs deep


  17. HLI July 5, 2019 10:45 am

    Doesnt it stand to reason that this could be the argument for families who choose to attend the ILH schools??

    I am surprised that this kid wants to come to Kahuku to play basketball.
    He had a much wider range of exposure in Cali.
    Feels like the UH thing was to squash people saying he was recruited.

    Good luck to him and his family.


  18. JetWavy July 5, 2019 9:29 pm

    Notes… please don’t patronize us. What Kahuku is doing is blatant recruiting. Don’t even try to front. This Cheng article actually admitted the only reason he was here was to get a look from UH. NOW, I’m not trying to demean Kahuku by saying they recruit. Most of the ILH schools recruit for athletics (Punahou is the worst) and get the cream of the crop athletes in the islands. OIA schools have blatantly brought in talent to improve their athletic teams as well (Kalaheo, Kaimuki, Moanalua, etc.). Has been going on since forever. I’m actually glad Kahuku is beating the ILH at their own game. It’s hilarious to see them cry about it, too. However, at least admit that your school recruits. Don’t try and front like these studs in the past 3 years have randomly fell in your laps as if they would have done so without being able to play for Kahuku basketball because of the community.


  19. ??? July 8, 2019 6:30 pm

    Only in Hawaii does people get excited about a 6’9 basketball player!


  20. hatsoff July 15, 2019 9:54 am

    Its only recruiting if he is getting something out of it. For ILH he is getting a free ride. At Kahuku? What is in it for him? Schools already free. cost of living already expensive… Nothing but the opportunity to play for Kahuku… Sounds like he is getting a great deal out of it. #GoBigRed


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