He started basketball life as a Falcon, flew to Oahu from Maui, and wound up a Falcon again.
Brandon Chung knows the rigamarole and routine well now. He also knows the warm and fuzzy feeling of being an OIA champion. The 6-foot-2 sophomore scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half to help lead Kalani over Roosevelt, 61-52, in the Division II championship game on Wednesday night at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium.
That makes it back-to-back titles for Kalani, which was a runner-up several times until 2017, when then-head coach Nathan Davis’ team finally broke through.
Senior Kapaa Nishimura was pinpoint accurate with 16 points and five assists, and Max Pepe added six points and five assists as the Falcons engineered yet another disciplined, almost stoic march to the crown. It got frazzled late in the game as Kalani committed six of its 13 turnovers, but an early lead was cushion enough to stave off a frantic Roosevelt rally.
Chung was as calm as his teammates, using balance and footwork to attack the low post deftly. His soft touch led to 5-for-5 shooting from the field after halftime. For the game, he was a perfect 6-for-6. He was automatic.
“He’s always calm. He’s a pleasure to coach,” Kalani interim head coach Everett Frye said.
For Chung, life is constantly on the move. He goes to classes at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind, where he stays in the dormitory. He travels to Kalani for practice, and flies home to Maui on the weekends.
He grew up playing for the Kahului Falcons youth team. On that squad, he’s more of a 4 than 5. With Kalani, he spent freshman year on the JV. This season, he’s basically the 5 on Kalani’s varsity, and he prepared for it well.
“I worked out a lot in the offseason,” he said after the game, surrounded by dozens of friends and teachers from HSDB and the deaf community. “And I ate more Hawaiian food in the summer.”
Kalani went 8-2 against opponents in the OIA East during the regular season, losing only to Kahuku and McKinley. Those two teams qualified for the D-I state tournament. Among the East foes Kalani beat was Kalaheo, which upset Kahuku later Wednesday night to capture the OIA D-I title. That may not make Kalani the apparent overall OIA champion, but it demonstrates the parity of the league this season.
The cohesion and complete buy-in of Kalani’s seniors to a system that accents wide spacing, dribble drives with multiple purposes, and a man-to-man defense that is equally team-oriented make Kalani different from most teams. Without Chung and Nishimura, they’re mostly a 6-foot and under team.
“Our seniors have done a great job,” Frye said. “We’ve been on them all season.”
Discipline is tough to accept for a lot of young players wherever they are. Sacrificing personal numbers. Playing a less flashy, less volatile style of basketball works better now, perhaps, because every player and coach longs to extend the season. To make the state tourney. To keep advancing.
Kalani’s 1-2-2 press wasn’t sticky. It was, however, enough to create six first-quarter turnovers by Roosevelt. The Rough Riders committed six more in the third quarter in similar fashion as the Falcons took away real estate between the hashmarks, so to speak. The result: Kalani outscored Roosevelt 16-10 and 12-5 in the first and third periods.
Of those 12 turnovers by Roosevelt in the first and third, nine were steals — mostly deflections on 20-30 foot passes in the middle — by Kalani.
“We don’t even get that many steals in other games or even practice,” Nishimura, a 6-2 senior who had two steals.
Kalani dipped into that arsenal, the 1-2-2 press, in games against the East’s D-I teams, but didn’t put it on display against D-II competition. The element of surprise was significant, but with the game televised, the whole state has seen what Kalani does. Maybe there’s more up Frye’s sleeve. Maybe not.
There’s no antidote for sloppy opponents who don’t play good defense against the Falcons.
“I think we put it all together,” Nishimura said. “As long as we have effort, we’re OK.”
The Falcons have reached the D-II state final in three of the last four years.
Kalani followed last year’s OIA D-II title with wins over Le Jardin 51-38 and MIL champ Seabury Hall 56-36 before losing to St. Francis 52-46 in the final.
In ’16, the Falcons were the OIA runner-up and lost to St. Francis 50-33 in the opening round.
In ’15, Kalani was the OIA runner-up and knocked out top-seeded Pahoa 57-52 in the opening round. The Falcons also ousted ILH champion Hawaii Baptist 37-32 before losing to OIA champion and rival Kaiser 49-45 in the final.
In ’14, OIA runner-up Kalani upset top-seeded St. Francis 54-41, and then defeated BIIF champion Kohala 70-59. Hawaii Prep topped the Falcons 42-33 in the final.
Next season, Kalani will likely be shuffled to Division I with Roosevelt, while two OIA East teams will switch from D-I to D-II.