When Kamehameha-Hawaii assistant coach Todd Yanagi approached Baldwin’s bench minutes before their third-place game, Bears coach Wayne Gushiken had a slightly surprised look. The longtime coach had seen and heard it all, pretty much, in high school hoops.
But this was something new, and when Yanagi was done explaining, Gushiken smiled and nodded. It was a fitting proposal.
Yanagi asked the veteran Baldwin coach to allow Warrirors guard Lanaki Apele, who had suffered a season-ending elbow injury the night before in the semifinals, to score without any Baldwin resistance to start the game. The Warriors were willing to give Baldwin a bucket immediately after that, and then turn the ball back over to Baldwin so Apele could leave the game.
So, Gushiken explained the scenario to his team. KS-Hawaii’s coaches explained it to their team. Apele, who came out of the lockerroom dressed in uniform, wearing a thick wrap around his injured left elbow, managed to smile a bit for maybe the first time since the injury.
It wasn’t just the pain of a dislocated elbow and a possible torn tendon that had him down. It was the reality of losing that rare opportunity to play for a state championship. It all came crashing down in a collision with Kahuku’s Mekeli Fiso, midway through the first half on Friday night.
But here, as Kekoa Turner passed Apele the ball, the senior captain caught it with his right hand and lofted it perfectly off the glass for a clean bucket. Apele was in the scorebook with his final 2 points as a Kamehameha-Hawaii Warrior, and the sparse crowd in Blaisdell Arena — third-place games don’t pack ’em in in most cases — applauded with vigor.
For those of us who have seen Apele play the game these past few years at the ‘Iolani Classic, St. Francis Merv Lopes Classic and state tournament, it’s been a rare experience to see a player so devoted to both ends of the floor. A floor general, distributor, scorer. A defensive phenom who understands the many nuances of footwork and positioning.
And as that ball fell through the clean white net last night, young Lanaki Apele could take his mind off the worst of all worlds just for a few seconds, maybe a couple of minutes. Why would such a dedicated student and athlete be deprived of a dream fulfilled? No one knows the answer, not yet anyway.
But for a moment, and for eternity, I venture to say, noble men came together for a chance to honor the player, the team and the game. It was, as Coach Gushiken watched intently, a proper ending for a fine young man’s high school career.
And with that, the Bears and Warriors went to battle on the hardwood for the ensuing 31 minutes and 45 seconds or so. It was a great game, indeed.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser
Video added Mar. 10, 2012