The morning after was still somber for the Kamehameha Warriors, but there is still gratefulness.
Kamehameha saw a dream season come up short with a 46-33 loss to Maryknoll in the Division I final of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Coach Larry Park confirmed that leading scorer Christmas Togiai suffered an ACL injury during the semifinal win over Kahuku.
The team found out after Togiai had his right knee examined.
“He went to the doctor yesterday (Friday). He started texting us about 3:30. Kordel (Ng), Bailey (Lee) and myself,” Park said.
Kamehameha still played stellar defense and shared the ball offensively. Everything was in place except their veteran point guard/wing, a versatile 6-foot-1, 200 or so-pound defensive stopper. Kamehameha got plenty of looks, but shot 4-for-27 from 3-point range. After beating Maryknoll in all three matchups during ILH play, the Spartans prevailed to repeat as state champs. In defeat, Park wouldn’t change a thing. Sometimes, things happen.
“You know, these guys, these seniors, they’re unbelievable. Kordel told the team while we were in our prep, pre-game meal. Chris came to our shootaround a little while later. He was great, too. He talked to the guys, tried to get them to rally around it. The whole group was unbelievable,” Park said. “Throughout the game, Chris was in the huddles trying to get the going, to play hard, give them instructions, always positive like always is. They wanted it so bad for each other and for Chris.”
Kamehameha’s defense has been a cornerstone since day one. They contained Maryknoll’s dangerous slasher, Niko Robben. He managed just three points and was 0-for-9 from the field.
“We had Pali (Kamaka) on him. Kordel does a great job on him. I think our thinking was we wanted to use our depth and wear them out, but they didn’t wear out as much as we hoped,” Park said.
The timing was rough. It’s difficult to recall another major injury so close to a state final.
“I think Nani’s would be one. I don’t know how late in the season it was,” Park said, referring to one of the all-time girls basketball greats, Kamehameha’s Nani Cockett. “I can’t remember anyone (injured) in the middle of the state tournament.”
A 28-6 season, ranked No. 1 for two months, and the final was more of a 1a and 1b situation.
“Maybe the final result wasn’t what we wanted because we were trying to win it, but I told the guys last night. Whether we beat them for a championship, I couldn’t be prouder of the guys. The effort was there and Chris did all he could too trying to will us there. That’s what we’re all about,” Park said.
Everything off the court, as well as on, was at an A-plus level for a relatively young squad. It began with the seniors.
“They all gave so much to our program in different ways both on and off the court. Christmas and Kordel on court were unbelievable, but their leadership and their friendship with all of them, and Christmas encouraged the younger ones to do the same, to have friendships on and off the court,” Park said. “Skyler (Ramos) injured his ACL, but he is always supporting his teammates. Preston (Ponteras) diving over the bench and into the stanchion. Bailey the effort and leadership he gives. He’s the anchor of our defense, the way he talks and sees the floor. Braden (Defries), coming back to play after tearing his ACL twice. That’s what’s important for this group. It’s a special group.”
Losing the seniors will not be easy to overcome, but the lessons learned, the work habits instilled — the Warriors have a system and a love for the game. A chemistry that will remain next season.
“We’ll probably meet with everybody in the next two weeks, kind of an exit interview. We’ll start thinking about next year when we get closer to summer leagues. That group is fun to watch, too. Every group is different. As we start building our group next year, we’ll figure that out. Personalities are different. Hopefully some of them step up and hopefully us as coaches help them step,” Park said. “Hopefully, we’ll find out why these things happen at some point of our lives. God has a plan for all of us.”