Blonde Ambition: Kalani relishes 1st hoops title

Kalani celebrated its win over Farrington in the OIA Division II final on Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Kalani celebrated its win over Farrington in the OIA Division II final on Thursday. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

Every follicle on Nathan Davis‘ head is screaming for intervention.

The follicles will have to obey their host because Kalani’s boys basketball coach is a man of his word. Before the Falcons played Farrington in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Division II championship game on Thursday night, he confirmed that the deal was on.

What deal? Back in preseason, flying home from a 3-0 run and the title at Waiakea’s tournament, his players expressed their dreams to him in a way that high school kids know best: with a fun bet. If Kalani went on to claim the OIA D-II crown — after missing their chance and becoming runners-up for three years in a row — Coach Davis’ hair would become their hair.

For the Falcons, who all have bleached-blonde hair color, that meant that a win over the Governors would be rewarded with their coach’s payback. Davis nodded before the game, smiling just a tiny bit.

After Kalani’s 42-34 victory, a game they led from the start with an 18-point lead by the third quarter, the only questions now are when and where. The longtime coach knows he can blame himself for the hair color to come. During the offseason, he employs a number of team-bonding activities, community service projects and anything he can think of to make his team’s time together memorable. They put in work since last season’s heartbreaking buzzer-beater loss to Roosevelt in the league finals.

They used a smothering man-to-man defense on a Farrington squad that had rained 12 treys against Kalani earlier in the season in a Govs’ victory.

“Our defense is like a boa constrictor. We choke them out slowly,” senior guard Ryan Jacobi said.

It wasn’t just the interior that Kalani protected. The perimeter bombs that Farrington used to beat Kalani earlier were a point of emphasis.

“We’ve been working hard on closing out the corner threes,” senior Kapaa Nishimura said.

Davis, a teacher on campus, has seen his teams of the past use different speeds and tempos to compete. This group, he said, is at its most efficient when the ball moves via pass while accentuating ballhandling skills out of what looked exactly like the old-school North Carolina four-corners offense.

The run and gun, at least against Farrington in the title game, was done.

“Our shot selection is not good in that kind of a (fast) game,” Davis said.

The result: Kalani attempted a mere 24 shots, but made 12 (50 percent) and took 36 free-throw attempts. Farrington worked hard defensively, but opted to stay in basic man defense as Kalani chewed up huge chunks of time. Time of possession is largely irrelevant in basketball, and some say it’s the same in football. However, as is the case with football, the longer a team has to work hard on defense, the lower the chances that they’ll have much left for offense.

Farrington was a bit rattled, it appeared, playing its first game on TV in ages. With a relatively young roster, the Govs shot just 3-for-23 from the field in the first three quarters. All that delay action by Kalani may have contributed to Farrington’s rushed shooting at times.

The fourth quarter was entirely different. The Govs’ fullcourt pressure reaped some benefits. They shot 50 percent (6-for-12) from the field and connected on three treys, and even shot 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. The 22-point output of the fourth quarter by Farrington almost doubled what the Govs did in the first three quarters (12 points).

That’s what inexperience can do. It was and probably will be, in hindsight, a most valuable lesson for a team that begins play in the D-II state tournament on Wednesday.

“We’ll bounce back,” Govs coach and hoops legend Steven Leopoldo said. “We’ll keep our boys’ heads up. This game is over and we’re moving on.”

For Kalani, the ultimate memory may be more than just the blondish change coming to their coaches’ follicles. Just about everyone who stepped on the court played a significant role in a game with reduced possessions. From Jaemi Harris, who sat most of the first half with foul trouble and still scored 12 points, to 6-foot-4 senior Christian Salas, who scored two points and blocked two shots in the first half, to the grit of Max Pepe and Jacobi on defense, the toughness of Micah Kawano (eight points, eight boards) and Toby Mitchell — both just 5-10 and battling bigs on the boards — to the hunger of 5-6 guard Trey Sumida, it was near-flawless execution of the game plan. For these guys, Davis found the perfect blueprint to win Kalani’s first basketball title.

In a fun-as-a-speeding-tortoise grind, Kalani executed one of its most memorable nights in the boys basketball program’s history. Fans might have to look back to the 1990s, when the run-and-gun Falcons became a force in the OIA with a speedy, Pete Maravich-style shooting guard scoring left and right on opponents.

That guard, Everett Frye, now sits on the Kalani bench as an assistant coach. The blonde hairdo, he said, isn’t for him.

Can’t win ’em all.


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