He was a basketball player at Kalaheo High School a dozen years ago, then a girls basketball coach at his alma mater.
And then, he moved on.
Neil Bowers was an assistant coach at Castle the past two years, where he is also a teacher. Two days ago, he learned that he will be the new varsity head coach. He succeeds Sean Kawakami, who stepped down. Kawakami, who also teaches at Castle, is transferring to a school near his residence in Central Oahu. He set the foundation for what Bowers hopes to build.
“He did a great job in improving the attitude. He changed the culture,” Bowers said.
Castle was 8-16 overall last season, but was very competitive in the OIA East. The Knights lost close games to Kailua (60-54), McKinley (55-52), Kaimuki (62-60) and eventual league champion Farrington (63-58). With Kaiser and Kalani in the way, Castle didn’t qualify for the Division II state tourney. Kaiser and Kalani later played in the D-II state title game.
Coming from Kalaheo and its rich history in basketball, Bowers knew full well that Castle has fared better in sports like football, baseball and softball over the years. He did something unusual to test the waters for potential basketball players. He started an intramural league at lunch recess.
“That brought out a lot of kids who I didn’t even know played before. They made their own teams and the league lasted two months,” said Bowers, who officiated and also played on a teachers-only team. “So I talked to them about coming out for summer. It definitely brought more awareness, and made more students aware of me.”
For the past few weeks, the Knights have had open gym two nights per week.
“There are 18 or 20 kids who come in after football conditioning. I like that,” Bowers said. “My wife is saying, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re always at open gym now.”
Castle’s varsity team graduates 10 seniors in June. Two sophomores — Jeremy McGoldrick, a starter, and Kaipo Padwell-Sacotopez, will be the only returnees.
“We have a really, really good young core. We’ll have a lot of good sophomores next season,” Bowers said.
The timing of Kawakami’s departure and Bowers’ hiring means there isn’t enough time to secure insurance for what Bowers had hoped would be a JV summer league. He’s also looking for a varsity summer league for his team.
Whatever the circumstances, the ball is rolling at Castle.