Closing the Book: No. 3 Kahuku (19-7, 9-2 OIA)
Brandyn Akana is a basketball coach, but before that, he was always a basketball fanatic.
The first thing he says before the questions about his Kahuku Red Raiders’ season is about the now. He asks, “How boring is March without March Madness?”
Well, Coach, sorrow shared is half the sorrow, so feel free. In fact, reminiscing about Kahuku’s season is much more fun. The Red Raiders were one win away from reaching the state championship game.
“Nobody expected us to be in the mix, so I’m happy with our guys. We came runner-up in the East, runner-up in the OIA and finished third (in the state). That’s a pretty darn good season,” Akana said.
Oscar Cheng, their 6-foot-9 center, arrived from the Bay Area last summer and put in the work every day in the gym. With Lokana Enos and an infusion of Robbie Sauvao, Kahuku had three solid seniors. The young backcourt of Shon Reid and Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola thrived, and Kahuku went from a mystery team to an OIA title contender.
Coach Akana’s optimism and patience went a long way.
This season was ________.
> Exciting. Nobody expected us. For the OIA, everyone thought it was Moanalua and Kalaheo. We sneak in there and do well. Beat some good OIA teams, and then it’s always good if you can be up there with the ILH.
This season was the movie ________.
> Jack Reacher. Exciting, a lot of action and a great finish. He was also Red-lentless.
Review: Starters and key rotation/role players:
Akana: “He’s got a lot of things happening, a lot of D-Is and D-IIs. Whether he stays in Hawaii or goes elsewhere, he’s got some opportunities. He’s able to work out. He just couldn’t sprint up and down at the (Senior Classic). It’s just one of those things you’ve got to rest it so you don’t stay out longer. I think, D-II, he would be very successful. D-I would be more difficult, but his size is something everybody’s looking for. He got so much better as the season went on. This is a guy who averaged 15 and 12. He was double- and triple-teamed in the OIA and I don’t think anybody else was night in and night out, but he kept it going.
“That’s why talking to coaches, that’s one of my things, he lives in the gym and he will outwork anyone. Anyone who can do that with that size, he’s going to help at the next level. Because he’s a late bloomer, and his previous school didn’t work with him. He looked kind of raw, but as the season went on, he got more comfortable. Our offense was inside-out and that helped to get better and better.
“We shut down, but that guy is at the park. I hear from a lot of people, ‘I seen Oscar at the park.’ Late at night. What’s he doing at the park, 9 p.m. What’s interesting, you look at all the leading scorers in the state, they’re guards. For him as a big, in our system, to score close to 16 that’s pretty strong for a big.”
Akana: “I know he’s going to BYU for football after his mission. Lokana was kind of a different year for him. We usually used him at the guard spot, but we used him this year at the 4 because we didn’t have other posts. With his experience he can do that. A lot of times, we went 4-out and one in, but in zone offense, which we had to run a lot, he was in the low post with Oscar. He could pass and step out and score. Lokana was just solid. He did what we asked him to do, which probably wasn’t that comfortable for him, but because of that we had a successful year.”
Akana: “His presence. When he showed up, he was another big, mature guard. He wasn’t one who would break the stat books, but just having him on the floor defensive and offensively, for the other younger players was huge for our team. He did a bit of everything. Score, rebound, play defense and he could bring up the ball.”
Akana: “Shon ended up being the point. Shon’s young. Last year, I threw him in the fire as a sophomore, but I knew if we did that he would become better. Solid, handle the ball and could shoot. He benefited from having a Robbie. He improved tons. Having him and Amari back next year is going to be huge for us.”
Akana: “He was the one who was the most improved. We brought him up from JV and this year, he was good. He started off really, really good. Towards the end was here and there. He was one of our better guys, scoring-wise, as a sophomore, too. His dad is 6-5. If he grows a couple more inches. He’s someone I’m talking to coaches at the next level. He averaged 12 and had games where he had 18, 17 for us. This was a huge year for Amari. The future is definitely bright for him. Those two guys, they took two weeks off and they’re back at it. These are two guys who don’t do football, so I’m excited about that. We finally are getting basketball kids. They were sixth, seventh grade when we won the state championship.”
Akana: “I loved him. He hit some big 3s when people left him open. This was his first year playing varsity as a junior, always guarding our best guy. Kind of like a Cody Sauvao and Kesi Ah-Hoy, can run all day. Very smart basketball player and great defender. It’s perfect. Guys like him, Cody, Kesi, they didn’t care about offense, but they never came off the floor because they were so good.”
Akana: “He played limited minutes but did good for us. Next year, he’ll be big for us in the post.“
Akana: “He got hurt early in the season in the (OIA-ILH Challenge). He played a lot last year as a freshman. He had surgery on his foot. He’s a football guy. Before Robbie came in, Daniel was starting. We’re excited to get him and all those guys back.”
Are you expecting any transfers?
Akana: “I can’t answer that. I have no idea. There’s been a lot of kids’ families calling, but I have no idea. Out of state (families). It’s perfect. It’s the North Shore. Basketball. Tolu Smith comes here, works on his game. It’s priceless.”
2018 All-State player of the year Tolu Smith was interested in transferring to Hawaii after leaving Western Kentucky
Akana: “They’re doing good (at Mississippi State). Ben Howland is the coach. His parents are back (in Mississippi).”
Did the rotation change?
Akana: “When Robbie came in, we kind of changed, but after that we stuck with it. It worked. We won nine or 10 games in a row.”
What or who surprised you most?
Akana: “Our defense. I really loved our defense. Just halfcourt man. We weren’t a team that would press you, but halfcourt I was really happy. We had some big stops when we needed to. Rebounding, I knew we would be one of the tops in the states, and scoring. But defense, I was surprised. Robbie and Lokana, then Amari, and Oscar. That was one of our strengths.”
What were the most adverse challenges?
Akana: “For us, it was turnovers because of our young guards. That was a big challenge for us.”
What was the peak? What was the low?
Akana: “The peak, I think was the last game (against Damien), finishing strong. That was our thing, finishing strong regardless of whether it was for third or not. Without Oscar, that was huge. The low was injuries in December and we were still trying to find ourselves early in the season. We lost to Kailua. That was a low. After that, we picked it up. Guys got better. Guys felt comfortable in their roles.”
What will you miss about this group?
Akana: “Those guys, everybody knew his responsibility. That’s what I loved about this group. Whatever we asked them to do, they did. You don’t get that far in the state because everybody’s doing their own thing. I’m going miss the seniors, Oscar, Lokana them, but they did their responsibilities and they did them well. I’m going to miss that.”
What are you anticipating for offseason and next season?
Akana: “Offseason is football, right? Those guys will work out and I can’t wait to get them back, which is usually late in the football season at Kahuku. We have a bunch of JV guys coming up, too. Those starting spots are open and that’s what I like about it. We’ll see who comes out. Hopefully, they’ll be basketball ready when football is done. We have three or four basketball guys who will continue to work out in the summer. I don’t do any of the summer leagues and AAU stuff.
“Without Oscar (in the final game), that’s a lot of points and rebounds, but a lot of guys stepped up and played well. Going into next year, that’s why it was exciting for the North Shore.”
Which of the the new additions for next season do you like most?
Akana: “I like Leonard Ah You. He’s a freshman post player, 6-3, probably the best player on the JV. I think he played a little in the post-season, but I’m excited for him. He’s a D-end, the biggest of all his brothers. Zion is his brother. He averaged over 10 rebounds a game for the JV. Some games, he had 15 or 16 rebounds. I can do a lot with that. Active, athletic and a high motor.”
Did you want him on the varsity earlier?
Akana: “I tried to keep him (on varsity) early on, but he decided to play JV with all his friends. He would’ve played with us. Playing alongside and going up against Oscar every single day, he would’ve gotten really, really good.”
There’s another big freshman who moved up to the varsity for another basketball team, Kamehameha: Tausili Akana, your son. He would be a great addition if he was at Kahuku.
Akana: “We love Kamehameha. Kamehameha was great for our two older girls. They loved it over there. That’s why he’s there. But, holy cow, with him at 6-4 and Ah You, whew. That would be fun, but they’re still young.”
What about Oscar’s younger brother? Isn’t he 6-5?
Akana: “Oscar’s brother, Desmond. 6-4. He played JV. He did really well. We just didn’t pull him up. He’s a sophomore.”
Is he as driven as Oscar is?
Akana: “Oscar was hungry. Desmond, probably not as hungry.”