Hoop dream lives on for Kordel Ng, Liko Soares in Arizona desert

There have been Hawaii basketball players who ventured to post-graduate programs before, but not quite like this. From left: Ryan Owens, Kamana Lapina, Kordel Ng, Liko Soares, Logan Howard and Nainoa Peters. Howard lived in Hawaii before his family moved to Arizona. Photo courtesy of Kordel Ng.

Adventure time in the desert is underway for a new version of Hawaii’s fab five.

Kordel Ng, Liko Soares, Nainoa Peters, Kamana Lapina and Ryan Owens are pursuing their hoop dreams. In Phoenix, Ariz., they live in a house together. Most of their time outside the house is spent practicing with Hillcrest Prep, a post-graduate program.

Their days are spent in the gym, in the weight room and at home, often playing video games. The purpose for all five islanders is to connect with a college program. Ng, who played at St. Francis and graduated at Kamehameha, was voted No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection by coaches and media despite a hand injury.

Soares, voted No. 5 in the Fab 15, was a key component as Maryknoll defended its Division I state championship. He, too, suffered a late-season injury and had surgery on a partially-torn meniscus. Half of the cartilage in that knee was also removed, Soares said.

Peters was a standout scorer at Kailua. Lapina ran the show at Mid-Pacific as its point guard. Owens was a post defender with wing skills at Kalaheo.

All five are part of one of Hillcrest’s two post-graduate teams.

“I think we start official scrimmages next month. We scrimmaged a JUCO already and a high school team ranked No. 7 (nationally), Hillcrest Prep,” Ng said on Sunday.

The post-graduate team will have 25 to 30 games before the national tournament, he added. Each of the Hillcrest post-grad teams has eight players.

“It’s kind of like being recruited for a college. This scholarship, we still have to pay a little,” Ng said. “My dad (Kekoa Ng) did most of the talking to the coach in the beginning to get it all figured out. When we knew it was legit, he sent the coach my number and I started talking to them.”

Soares was cleared to practice recently after months of physical therapy.

“My parents had to do a little research on the school and thought it was good,” he said.

Academics, Ng said, are “optional” for student-athletes who are already qualified for college.

“I have some college credits through Kamehameha,” said Ng, who plans to major in business administration when he goes to a university.

“Coach Kelly (Grant of Maryknoll) told me about this place,” Soares said.

A key connection is George Courtney, a former Hawaii resident who coaches in Arizona and also writes for Arizona Preps.

“George used to play against Kamana’s coach (Robert Shklov of Mid-Pacific). Mana told us about it. We texted Coach Nick,” Soares said of Hillcrest Athletic Director and CEO Nick Weaver. “We asked, ‘Can you room the Hawaii boys together?’ The apartment was three of us, then we saw Nainoa and Ryan got there the day after.”

Lapina, Soares and Ng arrived on Sept. 7. Online classes have been postponed temporarily.

“Because of corona, the online classes went from 400 students to around 3,000,” Ng said.

In the meantime, they work. Ng’s hand injury lingered and still hasn’t healed 100 percent. He ices it and keeps chasing the big dream, and he’s glad he won’t be doing it alone.

“I feel like it’s a lot easier to be with the Hawaii boys. If I was up here alone, I wouldn’t be handling it very well, especially without Liko and Mana. We’ve been friends for a long time,” Ng said. “It feels like a basketball trip.”

The daily routine looks like this.

7 a.m. — Rise and shine.

7:30 a.m. — Head to the gym. “There’s like five, six courts. We eat granola bars and bananas there,” Ng said.

8-10:30 a.m. — Skill work and defensive work.

10:30 a.m.-noon — Run, 5 on 5, 3 on 3. “We do a lot of running,” Soares said.

12:30-1:30 p.m. — Lunch at the gym. “Sometimes it’s Costco pizza,” Soares said.

1:45-2:30 p.m. — Weight training.

2:30 p.m. — “We’re done with our day. We usually go in the pool at our apartment,” Ng said.

5:30 p.m. — Dinner. “They cater us food. On the weekends, we’re on our own,” Ng said.

“Two times a week at the gym, we have yoga with this lady after our morning practice for 30 minutes to an hour,” Soares added. “It helps with our breathing and everything.”

After that, it’s usually Netflix.

“We hook up the iPad to the TV,” Soares said. “We usually watch scary movies.”

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Annabelle Has Returned” (series).

2. “Conjuring” (series).

3. Jo Koy comedy special (Hawaii).

Top 3 food/snack/drink

“Every Friday, we have to make a list of food and they get it for us from Costco. We have to cook on our own (on weekends). Today, we made musubis. Someone sent the musubi maker to Mana,” Ng said. “Mana’s mom brought the rice cooker.”

The five are grateful for a care package sent by Shklov recently.

“They have all the goodies. Aloha shoyu. Hawaiian salt,” Soares noted. “Me, Kordel and Mana are the cookers, the chefs. Nainoa and Ryan are the clean-up crew.”

1. Spam musubi.

2. Steak. “Liko’s mom sent us a big order of meat,” Ng said.

“Instacart. She sent around eight steaks,” Soares said. “We made a bunch of hot dogs.”

3. Lolo’s Chicken and Waffles. “It was amazing,” Soares said. “Their Kool-Aid was the best. Blue-Razz.”

Top 3 music artists

“When we’re cooking breakfast in the morning, we turn on Ekolu, Maoli, Skillinjah, Bruddah Iz, Kapena, J Boog,” Soares said.

“It makes you feel like home,” Ng added.

Sight seeing

Soares: “We went to Lake Pleasant and were in the slide that shoots you out. When we were outside, we couldn’t open our eyes, but we’re getting used to it.

Ng: “It’s nice because it’s hot out here. Today’s around 100, 105. When we first got here, it was 120.”

Time machine: What would tell younger you?

Soares: “I would tell myself not to hurt my knee. Just run into the person instead of stopping. I was going in with (former Kamehameha All-State player of the year) Christmas (Togiai). The last week (of PT), I could jog on it and when I got cleared, I could do more running. The first day of (Hillcrest) practice, that’s the first time I did some running. The doctor said I could keep running.”

Togiai is at Emery-Riddle Aeronautical University in nearby Prescott.

“Christmas is a two-hour drive (away). He’s redshirting. We’re thinking of meeting him at the lake next week. He can run and stuff, but he’s just taking it slow,” Soares said.

Ng played three seasons with older brother Kameron at St. Francis. When the school closed in 2018, he transferred to Kamehameha. The high-flying playmaker may be, inch for inch, one of the most spectacular ballers to play Hawaii prep hoops.

“I wouldn’t change anything. I’d tell myself not to break my hand. I jumped to block a short and someone was taking a charge. I flipped over him. It was in a tournament, before the (high school) season. I got up and the pain just didn’t go away. I had a bunch of nerve damage, so I couldn’t bend it,” Ng said.

Time has healed wounds, and another year of preparation helps the process.

Shout outs
Ng: “To my brother, Kameron, and my father and mother (Cheryl).”

Soares: “To my mom (Lehua), my dad (Kaipo) and Tumu, one of our friends we grew up playing with.”


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