The Kahuku basketball team will be defending its Division I state championship this year, and the arrival of Galen Tolu Smith, a transfer from Mississippi, might make it just a bit easier.
The 6-foot-10 senior center/forward who enrolled at the school in the fall recently signed a letter of intent to play for Western Kentucky.
The person who knows him best, his father Galen Smith, concisely gave us his take on what Hawaii basketball fans can expect to see on and off the court from his 17-year-old boy.
“Tolu is very humble,” the dad said last Friday in an interview outside the Kahuku gym. “He’s disciplined and he’s dedicated. And he’s also very loyal. He’s actually put himself into a position being here where he’s had to make new friends, see new family and be committed to a program that is all fresh and new to him. He’s dedicated to being a part of his family and to this team. He’s really gotten to enjoy it, enjoy the culture and enjoy the community and he’s having a great time. He’s actually jumped head first into it.”
Tolu Smith is half African American and half Samoan. His mom’s grandfather is the brother of North Shore resident Johnny Tapusoa‘s grandfather. Smith’s immediate family thought it would be a good idea for him to explore that side of the family roots by coming here.
Actually, the Smith family almost came to Hawaii two years ago.
“Galen Jr. (Tolu’s older brother) wanted to go to UH and play ball. He reached out to the coaches, the whole nine yards,” Smith’s dad said. “Our plans initially were to come here two years ago, but it didn’t work out. He ended up getting a scholarship at Xavier University in Louisiana.
“(For this year), initially we were going to go to Meridian (the Mississippi 6A state champions) from Bay St. Louis (Tolu played for Bay High as a junior) based on job opportunities for me. But since our (earlier) plans were to come here to Hawaii, we rerouted — get Tolu into school here and try to find us a place and make this our permanent residence.”
Mr. Smith is a computer specialist for the Department of Defense — in the Naval Oceanographic Office.
“It’s easy to get temporary duty in different locations and we located to this area,” he said.
A job in Hawaii, however, is still in the works.
As for residency, the Smiths rented a place before they got here, but instead decided to move in with David Te’o, who has been a Kahuku assistant football coach and whose wife Kelli is related to the Smiths via the Tapusoa side.
“We pay rent to them, and it’s a helluva lot less than other the other place that wanted $1,500 a month,” Galen Smith said. “We asked about the Kahuku sports program and what was needed for him to participate. We knew it was a big football school, but he doesn’t play football.
“We didn’t know anybody (from the basketball team) coming into this.”
Here is Mr. Smith’s synopsis about Tolu’s on-court ability: “He’s good around the basket, a great rebounder. He can handle the ball as a big and pushes the ball on the break and has a high basketball IQ. He’s multi-faceted. He has the hook. He (can hit) anything around the cup, anything in the box, a good midraage jump shot. He’s not committed to the 3-point shot that most kids work on and I don’t know exactly why.
“I would call him a center, but these days he would be considered a stretch 4. He’s not confused on how or what to do to get to the cup from the outside or the wing and has a pretty good outside shot. And he can guard every position, not just the bigs.”
Tolu, himself, summed up what he brings to the basketball table: “I bring my energy. I have a passion for the game and I fall in love with it all the time. I’m always watching it.
And Tolu appears to have a good grasp of what he needs to work on.
“I’m working on my defense,” he said. “If I had to guard a guard, I should be able to guard a guard, anybody on the court. I’m not slow, but just want to be able to have ’em locked down. I want my defense to be just as good as my offensive game. Defense is vital to me. My college coach said you gotta play defense if you want to play.”
Tolu Smith said that if he works hard enough he’ll get to play as a freshman.
But the dream doesn’t stop there.
“The NBA, that’s the goal, make it as a pro and feed my family. I think about it all the time. When I was younger, I tried some other sports. I tried football and it didn’t work out. I kept on growing and told my dad I wanted to go to the NBA. He took that to heart and we’ve been working on it ever since.”
Galen Smith is very much behind Tolu in that regard.
“That’s an awesome dream to have and I support him wholeheartedly and our whole family supports him,” the dad said.
Kahuku to the NFL is fairly common. Kahuku to the NBA … now that would be something totally out of the ordinary.