Outrage. Controversy. Flames of well-meaning criticism searing from the mouths of coaches and fans who saw the Kahuku-Anuenue score — final was 121-18, no typo – scorched the earth near and far.
Star-Advertiser columnist Dave Reardon addressed the issue in Friday’s newspaper.
Here’s a look back at the night that was, depending on how you look at it, awesome, ugly, played with sportsmanship, no mercy, with grace. A breakdown in four parts.
DOOR NO. 1: THE GAME
Fact: Kahuku (20-3 overall) is averaging 75 points per game, the dominant team in the state at this time. Their average margin of victory is 37 points. They’ve beaten two formidable mainland teams, and also took a shellacking from the nation’s No. 1 team, Findlay Prep (Nev.).
Fact: Anuenue (0-15 overall) averages 19 points per game with an average margin of -52 points per game. They have many young players, and in fact nearly didn’t field a team this season. They shoot 45 percent from the free-throw line, which is low even by OIA standards.
One problem: Most of the coaches who were critical of Kahuku admit they weren’t there to see the game. The point is simple: Why keep running and shooting as if it were a normal, competitive game when it is entirely possible for any team to simply hold the ball? Ten-pass minimum. Stop fast breaking. Play reserves heavily, even bench the starters?
It was one of those nights. Really. Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana described it as a fluky night when just about every shot Kahuku took went in. And there’s this factor: it was Senior Night. Everybody on the team, including the 10 seniors, was extra-hyped about playing their best, their fastest, their hardest with the gym packed and family looking on.
Anuenue, a team that averaged roughly 20 points per game entering the contest, made another bus ride, the longest on its regular-season schedule. Without a home gym, Na Koa play every game on the road. They have earned, by and large, a major level of respect throughout the OIA over the years. Their football program was sturdy and tough as any other despite low numbers for years. Sometimes, they almost qualified for the OIA White (now Division II) playoffs despite those low numbers and very young reserves. Despite having a large chunk of students commuting from as far away as Nanakuli and the North Shore.
They are tough. Respectful. Gritty. Nothing but pride and, in some years, enough talent to go with immense heart and dedicated coaching. This is what sports at the high school level, in so many ways, is all about.
And then they played a No. 1 team in Kahuku, loaded with homegrown talent and imported players from New Zealand and Virginia, looking to keep an amazing, unbeaten run alive. There was no doubt which team had the advantage on this night. And on the surface, all of the criticism seems warranted. But there’s this.
1. Kahuku benched its starters 10 minutes into the game. Leading scorer Jessiya Villa, the point guard with the nonstop Corvette motor, poured in 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting — all in 10 minutes and 40 seconds. No other starter, not 6-foot-6 Samuta Avea, not 6-7 Dan Fotu, not 6-foot-1 Kesi Ah-Hoy or 6-4 Taimona Wright or 6-foot Codie Sauvao scored in double figures. The second-highest scorer for the night was reserve guard Mark Viloria, who increased his scoring average to 5.3 per game even after scoring 22 against Anuenue.
2. Whether by intent or not, Kahuku had come reasonably close to scoring 100 points in a few other games: 81 at Castle, 91 against Roosevelt and 86 at Kaimuki. On this night, Akana knew early there would be a problem.
“We were treating it as any other game, to be hungry and play with intensity. With the talent and the guys we’ve got, that’s always dangerous,” he said. “We’re sitting in a zone. Anuenue, they really like to compete.”
By that, Akana means this: unlike most OIA teams that prefer to slow the pace and increase their chances of staying close against Kahuku, Anuenue was willing to run and gun with the Red Raiders.
“Every other OIA team, they sit on the ball. It got ugly real quick. I sat our starters and they were, ‘What?’ I let the freshmen and sophomores play. We shot 60, 70 percent from the field. Most of our guys had just one or two misses,” Akana said.
With that, there’s the universal question: why not have your team just stall to avoid embarrassing the opponent?
“Do I tell our guys, ‘Hold the ball?’ I’ve been around the game long enough and I’ve seen it all. I know when you disrespect the game and I would never do that. We never play zone, but we played zone. At practice, it’s unbelievable the intensity and how we go at each other. That’s how we respect the game,” Akana said.
“My freshmen and sophomores never get in, and some of them are good enough to start on some (other) teams. We didn’t press the whole game,” he added. “We hit 11 threes, and normally we don’t hit half that many.”
But they shot the ball. Boy, did they. And for doing such a basic act in the sport James Naismith coined “Basket Ball” — putting the ball in the basket as the primary goal — Akana and his team have been ripped to shreds in social media.
Anuenue coach William Romena has a thick skin, or he may be the most diplomatic competitor in world history. He never felt like anyone was attempting to embarrass anyone else that night despite the score.
“Honestly, when we got there, I knew it would be different. It was Senior Night and there was all that energy in the gym,” Romena said. “They have 10 seniors. It wasn’t that they were trying to run up the score. During the game, I didn’t get a sense they were trying to rub it in. They were playing their hardest for their families watching the game.”
Akana, who grew up on Molokai and starred for the Farmers, has great respect for Anuenue.
“They never stopped playing and I have respect for that. They were pressuring us and playing hard, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what was awesome,” he said. “I’m Hawaiian. I’m from Molokai. I know what it’s like being the underdog at a small school. Our seniors were begging, ‘Come on, coach, let us go in.’ I told them, no, we’re up 40.”
DOOR NO. 2: THE FURY
It began on Facebook with a post by a coach simply asking what people thought about the score. The thread has yet to slow down. I started a thread later, realizing that there was a real concern in cyberspace about sportsmanship, gentlemen competing with graciousness, and the perception of greed by coaches at the high school level. Was it real?
Some in the basketball community certainly felt like Kahuku had no right to win by more than 100 points. Here’s a sampling, published here with permission, including Moanalua coach Byron Mello’s assertion that Kahuku would’ve scored 200 points or more if it really wanted to.
David Vimahi, Kahuku spectator and game-time DJ: Sorry guys I was at that game, Kahuku JV would have beat Anuenue by 20 IMO. Nonetheless I have respect for them showing up and not backing down. If people don’t like these types of lopsided games then maybe OIA should create a white division.
Byron Mello, Moanalua coach: Mark, That’s just it…the bottom 7 players on Kahuku’s team could beat Anuenue by 100 points….that’s how big the disparity is…
Mark Rodrigues, former Chaminade guard: Byron, I’ll take your word for it….but if it’s that bad, my starters would have never stepped on the floor.
BTW, I am thankful that Ray Buck didn’t allow you guys to run up the score like this against us in high school…
Reginald Kashiwara, fan: Why is this a story? Kahuku does this with football as well. Just play the game.
Craig Garcia, Kalaheo air riflery coach (and former basketball player): Agree with coach Tacon. Just days before Kalaheo did the same. Looking at the line scores quarter by quarter, you can see the adjustments made with most teams against Nā Koa. Yes it was Senior night and yes they have ten seniors and are a deep team, but show the restraint and patience a great team can have and run your offense as a drill if you have to. There was a time when I was in high school with coach Pete I remember watching the squad running the flex motion offense where they ran the offense and everyone on the floor went through with at least two touches before a shot was taken. Didn’t make it through and coach Chico rotated the next 5 in immediately, calling a timeout just to sub in the next five if the offense got the board.
Bryan Mick, fan: I haven’t coached for years, but I don’t give much weight to running up the score complaints. If he sits the starters the entire game and they come out rusty in the next game and lose, the coach did his own players wrong. That said, I can see not pressing unless your style is to press 24-7, and giving more minutes to yours subs than you would in a close game. But I also don’t think it’s fair to say play the subs but tell them to just hold the ball. The bigger question is maybe this anuenue shouldn’t be in the same division.
Jeremy Nitta, fan and sports clerk: I feel Kahuku is so much better that they could have not played any starters and still won by 40. It cant be helped sometimes. If Anuenue didn’t want to get crushed, they could have forfeited. Like they do all the time in football. If you decide to step onto the court, you have to be willing to accept the outcome.
David Christian, fan: As a coach, I would NEVER want a sympathy win. If you win, you win!! By a little or a lot. I do expect my opponents to give my team a championship effort throughout the entire game. Starters in or out. Demoralizing or not. Life will crush you and there is absolutely no way on controlling how much force it crushes you with. If the coach can continue to get those Anuenue kids to want to play after that, he’s doing a heck of a job. Kudos to Kahuku for the win and much love to Anuenue and the coaching staff there.
John Ishikawa, fan: In Life there’s going to be situations like this. My Dad passed away when I was a Senior. This Basketball Game…is what it is People… Its just a game .
Robby Toma, former Kahuku player: In a world where “everyone gets a trophy” I do find it refreshing that Kahuku competed until the end. The season is not very long, you’d never want to waste an opportunity to better your team. Obviously I do feel for the Anuenue basketball team, but if I were on that team I’d get a first hand look at what it takes to be competitive. Myself, and our North Shore select team lost by 100 in Vegas so I do understand what that feels like. But we didn’t hang our heads, we didn’t make excuses, we prepared and worked harder because of it. It was a lesson and that was a game I’ll never forget.
If Kahuku had beaten another school that bad I don’t think this would be as big of a deal. It’s simple, if you show up to the game and step on the court, you have to be willing to accept the outcome. Nothing is given to you life so why not let this be a life lesson for us all.
Donald Awa, Konawaena coach: As a coach I expect my opponent to play hard the entire game. As long as there is no showboating and probably shouldn’t press. I have taken some cracks before and think it is more disrespectful to not compete hard at all times. Take the loss and use it as motivation to get better.
Kerry Moeai, Kahuku fan: Kahuku angering the hoops community? It seems anytime we win big in games people are questioning the integrity of our program and coaching staff. Not sure why this is even a story. Cause some ILH or OIA coaches upset we ran up the score?
Robin Gomes, former Ka‘u basketball player: Years ago the Big island was in an uproar when Konawaena ran up the score on Pahoa, 86-0. Pahoa’s coach (Wil) Okabe said it’s not Kona’s fault. Kona played their 3rd string. It was our job to stop them. My junior year, in basketball game way out of reach against Waiakea, we tossed in all of our reserves. Waiakea called time out and put their first string back in. They wanted to hit the century mark. We got pissed. We begged our coach to put us back in. He said no. He told the reserves run 4 corners. We stalled the last two minutes. They didn’t make 100. The Civic crowd booed us. Honestly, felt like we won.
Mark Vicens, fan: Something has to be done. But what can you do? Remember years ago when the Damien football team. Would forfeit games. Cuz St. Louis would run up the score!
Steve Hathaway, Roosevelt coach: I wasn’t there so it’s hard to comment. All I can go by is the box score.
DOOR NO. 3: THE AFTERMATH AFTER THE AFTERMATH, OR WHAT IF ANUENUE PLAYED IN ILH D-III?
So… now what?
Kahuku has been all business since the game, focusing on playoff foe Kaiser in a Friday night matchup.
Anuenue didn’t qualify for the Division II playoffs. But this is a athletics program with enough players, enough chutzpa, enough grit to battle anywhere in any sport. Where do we see something like this, tiny schools and their proud student-athletes going to battle with great vigor, tremendous energy and unyielding spirit?
Try the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which has fielded Division III — yes, THREE — since the 1970s. Back then, the tiny agate in the Star-Bulletin would always post scores from ILH D-III. The likes of Our Redeemer, later named Lutheran, was common in my park since three of our friends went to school there. All three played basketball there, though one of them was clearly not exactly a dominant baller. Yet, at a tiny school, he was on the team. He loved the game, loved to compete.
He got all the competition he could’ve wanted.
Another kid in the neighborhood played for Hawaii Baptist. He was a good player, two years older than me, and the day I learned to triple-threat him off his feet and beat him in a game of 21 was a truly triumphant afternoon. Not just because I was a public-school kid, but because he was a damn good player.
More than half the kids in our park wound up at public high schools, though the rest went to mostly mid-sized or smaller private schools and mostly thrived. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the OIA adopted a similar classification in its largest sport: football. Red, White and Blue Conferences, long before there was Division II at the HHSAA level.
So, if D-III has been a success for the broad spread of schools in the ILH, why wouldn’t Anuenue thrive in a similar environment? In fact, why not find a way for Na Koa to play in ILH D-III, where schools have similar small to tiny enrollments, yet love to compete in athletics.
Imagine Anuenue playing in a league with these teams:
Assets (12-0 in ILH D-III)
Christian Academy (10-2)
Hawaiian Mission (7-5)
Honolulu Waldorf (6-6)
Island Pacific (5-7)
Damien II (1-11)
Lanakila Baptist (1-11)
(We could also go off the deep end and bunch St. Anthony, Hana and Lanai into an MIL D-III, and Laupahoehoe, Kohala, Ka‘u, St. Joseph and a revival of Parker into a BIIF D-III. Yes, we can.)
Before we go into the “why this will never happen” portion of this post, let’s imagine the impossible. Anuenue, with an enrollment that would be small even by ILH D-III standards, would provide the kind of passion and mutual respect that, at least for this reporter in his 27th year of covering prep sports, is more commonplace among smaller schools.
Anuenue, with its current roster, maybe we can guess just a bit here, that Na Koa would compete with every ILH D-III team. Assets is, in fact, a very entertaining team that loves to fastbreak, has skilled players, and yet has its share of young up-and-comers who could use a season in JV. But there is no time for JV at this level, where rosters are usually small and ninth-graders are thrown into the proverbial fire.
It is, in many ways, what makes small-school basketball here, on the neighbor islands, and anywhere else in the world, so fascinating. How does a stud senior hoopster learn to lead underclassmen with a little finesse?
Athletically, we could surmise that Anuenue can run and jump and dive for loose balls with any D-III team. Would Anuenue have a winning record? Maybe. But these ILH D-III teams each have their pride, too. It would be fascinating. Would.
“I don’t follow boys very closely, but if they had a girls squad, I’d welcome it,” Mid-Pacific girls basketball coach Sherice Ajifu said. “As a D-II school this season, we played an integrated D-II/D-III schedule because there aren’t enough D-III schools (in the ILH), so it would be an opportunity for those schools to play more opponents and possibly allow for a separation so there wouldn’t be so many lopsided games.”
There would be issues even discussing an exemption to allow Anuenue, a DOE school — it does not have charter-school status, according to Romena — to participate in the ILH. Different entities, but philosophies between D-III schools are much more similar than they would be, say, between Anuenue and Kahuku or Anuenue and Punahou.
There may be a precedent, of sorts, within the ILH. University Lab School, now University Exploratory School, began as a DOE member. It is now a charter school, and its boys basketball team was successful for a time in D-I. The Junior Rainbows have been very competitive at the D-II level, winning the state title for the first time at this level. The Jr. ‘Bows won three outright state titles way back in its heyday: 1978, ’87 and ’88. Prior to that, they won what many younger fans have never heard of: the Class A championship in ’65.
That was the original “small school” state tourney, won by schools with enormously deep roots in island basketball: Nelson Yoshioka (University), Don Ridgely and Himeo Hayashida of Laupahoehoe, Norman Pule and Harry Kahuanui (father of Punahou girls basketball state championship coach Shelly Kahuanui Fey), Hugh Taufa‘asau of Nanakuli, Paul Piadera of St. Anthony, Tony Sellitto of Maryknoll, David Almadova of Waialua, Robert Mack of Lahainaluna.
Why recall so many Class A coaches? They helped set the tone as the precursor to today’s D-II state tournament for boys and girls basketball. And that could, or should, set the stage for D-III state tournaments for roundball.
What? D-III state tournaments? It takes just three teams to qualify a league as official in the eyes of the HHSAA, and it takes just three leagues to warrant a state-championship tournament.
There are easily at least three tiny schools in most leagues — ILH, MIL and OIA — to consider the possibility.
But back to Anuenue. Would the ILH consider an exemption? Possibly.
“I think the fact that ULS is now a charter school maybe opens the door for discussion,” longtime Hawaii Baptist athletic director Deren Oshiro said. “They technically are no longer a private school.”
Chi Mok coached for nearly two decades in the ILH at ‘Iolani in its intermediate and JV programs. He is in his second year as head coach of Kalani’s girls basketball team, which qualified for the D-II state tourney. He doesn’t object to the largely imaginative possibility of Anuenue in the ILH D-III schedule. Somehow.
“I would be OK with it. I’m all for being competitive. Since there is no D-III in the OIA, I think they should be allowed an exemption and be allowed to play in ILH D-III,” Mok said.
Of course, it seems there may be no precedent.
“Not as long as I’ve been coaching. It’s been OIA keep to OIA and ILH keeping to ILH. I guess the next thing that would need to be discussed is, who can qualify for the exemption? If a school went winless during a season, can they then also go to ILH D-III? So that would be a really interesting situation if that happens,” Mok said.
The differences between the ILH and OIA are many, and it began with the public schools’ split from the private schools in 1969. Today, they exist and have a frenemies relationship at worst. One difference is that the OIA uses a power rating based on wins and losses to move teams up and down between D-I and D-II, while the ILH rarely changes its lineups.
Enrollment is a crucial factor, and Anuenue fits the bill.
“I don’t forsee too much opposition for them to go ILH D-III,” Mok said.
A lot of ifs. But why not imagine?
DOOR NO. 4: OIA DIVISION III?
A scan of the OIA directory shows that there are seven tiny schools in membership. One of them is Anuenue and the other six do not field basketball teams. Their athletes, regardless of sport, are eligible to play for public schools in their districts.
But what if the birth of D-III in the OIA spurs some of these small schools? What if students start asking their principals and athletic directors about forming basketball teams? Competing against Kahuku is a daunting task, but if Samuel Kamakau has seven kids interested in forming a team, Anuenue would be happy to challenge them. How about Hakipuu Learning Center? Or Halau Ku Mana, the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and Blind, Hawaii Technology Academy and Thompson Academy?
Surely, some schools simply aren’t built for engaging in athletics. So of these seven members of the OIA, maybe only four of them can field a varsity or JV team. That’s still enough to make it worthwhile. After all, the Kauai Interscholastic Federation makes do with just three football and three basketball teams.
So there is almost certainty that Anuenue wouldn’t be playing in the ILH anytime soon, even if the ILH grants an exemption. It would take a miracle for the DOE and OIA to permit any team to line up for games in the ILH, whether for insurance reasons, lack of available gyms, etc.
But it could be done. Saturday daytime triple headers for the OIA’s D-III games at a high school that is accommodating (and willing to bank some concession-stand revenue). The ILH plays its D-III games at three rotating sites.
Sure, teams like Anuenue don’t have their own gyms, but that never stopped the amazing progress of teams like University and Maryknoll in the 1970s and ‘80s. It didn’t alter the dream of small schools to win the Class A state tournament, and the remote possibility of a D-III state title somewhere down the road shouldn’t be an impossibility, either.
But first, what are the odds of D-III in the OIA? The onus, as usual, is on the student-athletes and parents. If they ask about their small school entering the fray, about starting a D-III level sport, that’s a start. It clearly won’t start at the administrative level.
“I think the OIA needs to reevaluate how D-I and D-II is split before considering a D-III. Campbell competing in D-II this year is ridiculous with their enrollment,” former Saint Louis JV coach and current Le Jardin head coach Kenneth Powell said.
But then again, D-III would probably primarily be based on enrollment, say a cutoff of 250 students.
“I think a D-III would be nice if it stayed true to small schools,” Powell added.
What about Anuenue? All these far-fetched ideas may seem glossy and bright on paper, but do Na Koa really want this to happen?
“If it were available, I would be interested,” Romena said. “With (the possibility) of playing in ILH D-III, my staff and I did discuss that, playing Hanalani and teams like them. We’re competitive and we know what we have.”
There’s no telling what conversations would happen by land or cyberspace between higher-ups of the ILH and OIA. Getting the two leagues to agree to an Open Division at the HHSAA Football State Championships was far from a smooth route, but it got done. An exemption for D-III in the ILH, or the notion of tinkering with a few D-III teams within the OIA, it can’t be that political, can it?
And even if it were, so be it. If the schools are willing to build it, start it and proceed with it, it can fail, turn to dust and fade away. No harm done, a good and valiant effort, and the little guy got his shot. A memory of one season battling the other little castles of the land, not a horrible worst-case scenario. The best case? The birth of something eternally memorable for the humble warriors at the Anuenues of Hawaii. The reward is worth the cost: any and all flames.