CLOSING THE BOOK: Larry Park on Kamehameha’s superb season, bittersweet finish

All-State boys basketball players from Kamehameha Kapalama: Kordel Ng, Christmas Togiai and Coach Larry Park in the middle. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser

Closing the Book: No. 2 Kamehameha (28-6, 12-0 ILH)
> vs. Top 10: 16-6 (.727)
> Top 10 losses: MS, LUHI, KAIS, COL, ER, MS
> Non-Top 10 losses: None
> Home: 6-0
> Away: 9-0
> Neutral: 13-6
> Playoffs: 1-0
> HHSAA: 2-1

The season was remarkable for the Kamehameha Warriors, walking in a dream.

They were 12-0 in a very difficult ILH schedule. The Warriors swept Maryknoll during the regular season, then beat the Spartans a third time for the league championship. It was the first unbeaten ILH season for Kamehameha in boys basketball since 1992, when Jim Winchester was head coach. They were also ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10 for six weeks in a row.

Kamehameha satisfied all the prophets who knew that the 3-9 team of last year would rise to the top in the 2019-20 season. Nobody, however, could have prophesied a knee injury that would end the season for eventual All-State player of the year Christmas Togiai. That didn’t end the title hopes of Kamehameha.

In fact, one day later, in the state final against Maryknoll, the Warriors had 27 3-point attempts. On a normal night, they make nine or 10 of those long-range bombs. In this game, without Togiai, they were 4-for-27. Maryknoll took home its second state title in a row.

The good news for Kamehameha is that it was a season to behold, and even with the graduation of All-State selections Togiai and Kordel Ng, and seniors like center Bailey Lee, there is a wealth of talent returning next season.

Larry Park, a longtime teacher, reflected on his second year as head coach.

This season was ________.
> Special. The guys were good. We made a run as best we could. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

This season was the movie ________.
> Coach Carter. I don’t think they won it, either, but they had a good rise, a good run. Kind of came from nowhere.

Review: Starters and key rotation/role players:

Christmas Togiai
Park: “He’s been a tremendous competitor and player for our program for four years. His hard work, his leadership, hopefully our younger guys can take that example and move forward with that. At our banquet, he talked to them about playing hard, building relationships with each other. Basketball’s not everything. They have to take care of their school work and their relationships.”

Kordel Ng
Park: “On the court his highlight reel dunks brought so much excitement, he could score in so many different ways (threes, pull-ups, etc). He led our team in deflections which led to transition points and dunks. Off the court he provided so much leadership and friendship with our entire group. He would give great suggestions in pre-game discussions and encourage his teammates. What makes this even more impressive was he had to change schools. I cannot imagine how hard that was to face that uncertainty heading into his Senior year and handle it so well.”

Preston Ponteras
Park: “Preston did all the little things we needed to succeed. He was our primary on-ball defender, and he gave opposing point guards fits all season long. His relentless ball-pressure is what set up our entire defense. He was also willing to make all the hustle plays on both sides of the ball. He would dive all over the court for loose balls and take charges, and then set great screens and make the right passes on the other side. Preston made so many timely offensive plays all year long. He worked really hard to become a great pull-up jumper guy. He was definitely one of our unsung heroes.”

Paliku Kamaka
Park: “We went up to California during the preseason and we hear the other coaching staff yelling, ’13 is the shooter!’ Pali ended up with almost 60 threes on the season. He also could take it to the basket and played tough defense. I am excited to see him have a great football season and watch him grow with his leadership.”

Bailey Lee
Park: “Bailey was the anchor to our defense, a great leader and might have had the best basketball IQ in the state. He sees the game so well, a coach on the court. He could finish well around the rim, did a great job of defending other teams’ posts and brought a sense of toughness to our team. He also made a ton of hustle plays that energized our team right when we needed it.”

EJ Kapihe
Park: “EJ is the complete package on the basketball court. He is tall, athletic, strong and skilled. He puts in the time to get better and can beat you inside and outside. He could easily get to the basket in one move and then knock down a three the next time down the court. Defensively, EJ gave us a great rim protector who could also guard smaller guys out on the perimeter.”

Xavier Lever
Park: “Xavier has been going through a growth spurt for the past few years where he went from about 6-0 to around 6-7 since his freshman year. He has great post moves and great touch around the rim, but can also step back and knock down shots from the elbow and even from behind the 3-point line. He is also a great rim defender and rebounder that we expect great things from in the future.

Onipa‘a Pung
Park: “Oni can shoot it and get to the rim. He is one of the shiftiest players we’ve had and is one of our best on-ball defenders. He is able to impact games on both sides of the floor with steals, baskets and excitement. He will be so exciting to watch next year. He works extremely hard all year long.”

Did the rotation change?
Park: “Preseason we played a bunch of guys. I was able to watch our Long Island Lutheran game on tape. We played all our guys. We started the regular season with a nine-man rotation. Braden deFries, some games he could play more because his knee felt better. He made the team as a freshman when Greg Tacon was the coach. Sophomore year, he had a pretty good year. Summer league, he tore his ACL. He had a great summer league, tore it on his Vegas trip. He rehabbed his entire junior year. His first five-on-five with his club in the summer, he tore it again. He decided to play the best he could this season with the boys. The Monday after the state tournament, he had his surgery. He was doing really well before it. I’m proud of him, too. He stuck it out. He was a big part of our team.”

What or who surprised you most?
Park: “Probably, as we went through the season, how calm our group was. And we kept finding ways to win. Some teams are good and they find ways to lose. College, NBA. We just kept finding ways to win.

What were the most adverse challenges?
Park: “Injuries. I think we got down to Damien twice, at Damien. That adversity game by game was different.”

What was the peak? What was the low?
Park: “Probably winning the ILH. We haven’t done that in awhile. People were asking, but for us at Kamehameha I think the last undefeated ILH team was 1992. At Kamehameha, that doesn’t happen often.”

What will you miss about this group?
Park: “The togetherness. The togetherness and how they supported each other at practice, on the court, off the court. That’s why they play so hard for each other and their friendships are so strong.”

What are you anticipating for offseason and next season?
Park: “If we don’t come back to school, face to face, I don’t know if we’re going to have a summer league. At some point, football will start out. It’s something we’re taking as it goes. Understandable. There’s a much bigger issue we have to go through together. We’ll kind of play it by ear. If there’s no summer league, we’ll figure out how to get them together in the fall. We’ll get some workouts in during the fall. We’ll see.”


  1. Jason March 24, 2020 1:00 pm

    There is little doubt that losing Christmas cost Kam the championship. Lets admit that this was a down year in the ILH. What Im still trying to figure out is how does MPI lose so many games with all the talent they were loaded with. And why isn’t the Crusader coach the CoY because they weren’t supposed to win any games, and they were the team that no one wanted to play.

  2. Paul Honda March 24, 2020 1:32 pm

    “Down year.”
    Surely, you jest. Six of the seven teams in ILH Division I were in the Top 10. Any of those six teams would have contended or won the title in any other league in Hawaii. The seventh-place team, ‘Iolani, would have made the state tournament if it was in any other league.
    Parity in the ILH was extremely evident. But I think you’re eight days early on this. We’re not at April Fools Day yet.

  3. Obviously Jason knows nothing about ILH basketball this year!!! March 24, 2020 3:08 pm

    Jason, I think the Coronavirus may have affected your brain. ILH basketball was probably the toughest it’s been in the last 10 years. I’m glad Paul responded with what he said. That why when you say how could Mid-pac lose all those games with so much talent. Its because everyone else was loaded and talented too.

  4. Imua2 April 3, 2020 2:31 am

    He should have been coach of the year, not the other guy!

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