Tatupu-Leopoldo wasn’t sure basketball would be his thing
Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo, Farrington, F, Sr.
No. 42’s favorites
Food: Samoan and Hawaiian. “For Samoan, povi. It’s beef. Hawaiian food, my dad’s laulau and kalua pig. Whatever my dad makes, I like it. I can make it, too.”
TV show: SportsCenter.
NBA player: LeBron James.
NFL team: Dallas Cowboys. “Like my dad.”
Movie: American Sniper.
Teacher: Jason Okamoto, fifth-grade teacher at Lanakila Elementary.
Song: Thinking Out Loud.
Teammate: Montana Liana. “My cousin. We’ve been through a lot. Doing everything together forever. Fighting, Playing. You name it, we did it.”
Favorite hangout: Home. “I’m a guy who likes to play a lot of video games. Black Ops 2 (Call of Duty).” His screen name is Lanakilya.
On Monday night, Allan Silva reminded his team to hit the sack early.
“They were all in bed by 11 o’clock,” the longtime Farrington boys basketball coach said.
On Tuesday night, the Governors stunned No. 1-ranked Kalaheo in overtime, 60-58.
On Thursday night, the Governors again shocked the world. Their 48-44 win over No. 2 goliath Kahuku capped an OIA season that was, in the words of stout and steady senior forward Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo, “a roller coaster.”
By Saturday night, Silva had his guys together in rather swank surroundings. All their hard work deserved a fitting celebration, so he took them to a posh restaurant atop the Ala Moana Hotel.
“We get to celebrate a little here and there,” Tatupu-Leopoldo said.
On Sunday, the Govs were back on campus in Kitaoka Gym, sweating through a “walk-through” at mid-day.
“Footwork,” Silva said as his staff put the Govs through nonstop drills. “We still need to work on footwork.”
That’s what champions do. The work doesn’t end.
Back in the day when Ronald Reagan resided in the White House, Eileen Anderson ran the city from Honolulu Hale and $2.15-per-gallon gasoline was the norm, brothers Steven and Leo Leopoldo spent their weekends indoors. Lanakila District Park gym was their safe haven, the neighborhood palace for roundball. Hours and hours of shooting, pickup games and more shooting. The story goes that their family would potluck there and make a day of it sometimes.
Steven became an OIA champion with the Farrington Governors as a senior, a slashing, sometimes flashy guard with incredible quickness and equally amazing basketball IQ.
Fast-forward 32 seasons, and Steven’s son Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo has done the same. In fact, the son was a crucial cog in the Governors’ playoff run with 11 points in a 60-55 OT win at Campbell, 10 points and nine rebounds against Kalaheo, and five points and 10 boards against Kahuku.
Just like the OIA title game in 1983, Farrington’s title victory in 2015 over Kahuku was by the same score: 48-44.
Whatever it is, Farrington, now seeded second in the upcoming New City Nissan/HHSAA Division I State Championships, has enjoyed peaks and suffered through valleys in a wild season. They disposed of powerhouses early in preseason, Punahou among them, and were ranked among the top three in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 regularly. Then came a major tail-off. By the time the Governors were 3-3 in the rough OIA East, they had become an afterthought. A team that peaked early. A team that, oddly enough, couldn’t shoot straight.
What happened to the run-and-gun, long-range bombing Govs of Harry Pacarro in the 1980s? Or the D-II state champions and last year’s D-I state runner-up under Allan Silva?
It wasn’t a mystery to fans alone. The Govs had to sit down and figure this out. They’re small — the roster is 6-foot and under with the exception of 6-1 Montana Liana, a reserve forward. Tatupu-Leopoldo is listed at 6-1, but is actually 5-10. They didn’t have the shooting and height of last year’s squad.
“To be honest, we started on top of our game, and then we went downhill and there was a little doubt for myself, especially,” Tatupu-Leopoldo said. “But playing football for four years, I knew anything’s possible if you believe. But I made my mind right, and our seniors talked, we motivated ourselves and each other.”
What they did have, was pride and the will to unify.
“We appreciate our supporters, but we also appreciate our doubters and haters because they motivate us,” Silva said. “We had a talk with all the guys about lokahi. Unity. We’re a family here and we had to play together.”
The squad evolved as much off the court as on it.
“When we were 3-3, we had to wake up. We were tired of losing,” Tatupu-Leopoldo said. “Coach said it doesn’t matter about height. Heart is what matters. Coming from a place like Kalihi, we have a lot of pride and a lot of heart for our community and especially Farrington. It’s a blessing and it drove us.”
Growing up around any sport, breathing it, absorbing it, living up to family lore — not easy in any household. Aunt Caroline Tatupu led the Lady Governors to several state-tourney berths as girls basketball head coach. Sister Brydgette Tatupu-Leopoldo was an all-state guard who went on to play college basketball. Two other siblings, Bryana and Bryson, also played hoops for the Govs. Bryana played at Notre Dame de Namur and graduated recently.
Steven never really left campus, staying on as an assistant coach for years before becoming the girls head coach in recent seasons.
For Bryce, the game came easily enough. He could always outthink opposing players. But he was not the nimble slasher that Steven was. Nor was the taller (6-1) pure shooter that Uncle Leo was. No, Bryce wasn’t even sure if basketball would be his thing in high school.
“I wanted to go to Punahou, my eighth grade year, but I didn’t get in,” he said. “Then my dad wanted me to go to Kahuku to play football, but we had a family meeting and said, I’m going to come here and finish what they started. I’m actually fortunate enough to be here, win an OIA championship in my senior year.”
He is a stellar student with a 3.4 grade-point average. Farrington, Tatupu-Leopoldo said, has prepared him for the future.
“Everywhere you go, there are problems, that’s what I believe. Academically, it’s all based on your parents. If they’re on you 24/7 about your education, you will go far. My sister, Bryana, got her degree and she’s got a good paycheck now,” he said. “Education, you can get it anywhere. Maybe Punahou has the upper hand because of technology, but that’s pretty much it.”
Last year, Tatupu-Leopoldo opted to skip basketball and focus on football and weight training. As a linebacker, his future seemed more promising in football. It made sense.
“We’ve been waiting for Bryce,” Silva said. “He played JV basketball for us, and as Steven Leopoldo’s son, he has the highest IQ as far as high school basketball is concerned. We have talent, but Bryce is our key. He’s not even 6 feet tall and he gets a lot of charges, always at the right place at the right time whether it’s on the football field or on the basketball court. A lot of brains and a lot of guts. That’s Bryce and that’s our whole team.”
Silva kept that promise locked away for a year as the Govs soared out of the East, won the league and gave ‘Iolani a mighty battle in defeat during the state final.
This season isn’t about what could’ve been if Bryce had played basketball as a junior. Farrington was stacked, loaded and Bryce would’ve been a role player off the bench, in all likelihood. This season is about timing and trust.
While the senior-heavy 2014 squad was a blend of talented returnees (Jacob McEnroe as a force on both ends of the court) and transfers — Isaiah Smith from Maryknoll two years earlier, and Isaiah Visoria from Roosevelt — the ’15 Govs have a different look.
Jake Smith arrived in the offseason, a senior transfer from Kamehameha and immediately became their leading scorer. Ranan Mamiya and Keola Kealoha came in from St. Francis, becoming contributors on the football field. Mamiya was arguably the most talented of offensive playmakers in the islands, a first-team all-state selection.
On the hardwood, Mamiya provides the perfect counterbalance to Smith, a deadly, streaky 3-point shooter. Mamiya has single-handedly disrupted opposing offenses, using his 5-11 frame and tremendous athleticism to become a master of steals, and his coast-to-coast speed is unmatched, and for good measure, no defender swoops in from the perimeter to block shots like him.
As the Govs went on a tear to end the regular season, Silva had a directive for his reenergized squad: play the smartest basketball of their lives. That meant Smith wouldn’t settle for quick 3-point jacks so often, but it would mean that he would cut much more often to the basket for layup opportunities. It meant that the Govs would turn patience into their greatest virtue.
Farrington aged almost overnight, and in a good way. With the emphasis on working for the best shot possible, Tatupu-Leopoldo emerged as a major hub, using his feet and legs to get position on much taller defenders. Using his strength — and all those hours in the Govs’ weight room — to back down defenders in the post. Using those savvy pump fakes and impeccable court vision to dish the ball to teammates like Tua Unutoa, Liana and Smith for open layups.
It didn’t matter anymore how big Kalaheo and Kahuku were, or that Farrington was shooting below 30 percent from the field. The Govs were playing basketball like grown men. Even an 11-2 deficit against Kahuku didn’t cause a ruffle.
“We had a talk before the Kahuku game, Bryce, Montana, all of them shared and it was the most emotional and exciting talk we’ve ever had in all the years I’ve been here,” Silva said. “I said, guys, it doesn’t matter how tall the person is. Play with your heart, your brains and move your feet.”
Smith hit clutch shots, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute against Kahuku. Mamiya made spellbinding plays on defense, sparking the fullcourt pressure that led to 22 Kahuku giveaways. Unutoa bravely drove the paint against the big Red Raiders for two key baskets in the fourth quarter. In the middle of all that traffic, Tatupu-Leopoldo puts all that IQ to work. Of the 10 boards he yanked down against Kahuku, six were on the offensive glass.
There’s room, perhaps, in these days before the state tourney tips off, to imagine crazy scenarios. Here’s one: how would Bryce do against his dad and uncle if they were still in their primes? Say, match up five Bryces against five Stevens or five Leos. Then what?
“Bryce would probably give them a great game or beat them because he picked up all that knowledge from them growing up. Bryce could beat anybody,” Silva said. “You could put a 7-footer on him, he’d find a way to get in there.”
“I think they’d have the upper hand because I was raised a football player,” Bryce said of the oddball fantasy universe battle between five Bryces, five Stevens and five Leos. “Anything could happen.”
Thinking of great Farrington teams of yesteryear has been fresh on the Govs’ minds. The ’83 OIA title team went on to lose to eventual state champion ‘Iolani, coached by Glenn Young.
“Me, Jake, Kupono and Keola got to meet some of the ’83 champions. My dad just turned 50 (on Tuesday) and they had a little get-together. Ben Mau came. Walter Kealoha came and some of the other guys on their starting five. They shared a little bit of what they learned and that just motivated us more. Hopefully, that carries with us through this week.”
Farrington hasn’t won a Division I state crown since 1959 and ’60, when Bob Ikehara was head coach.