The Bulldogs of Le Jardin Academy are making the big leap on the basketball court.
This year, the boys team is more than staying close. They are 4-0 in ILH Division II. Coach Kenneth Powell, a former Saint Louis JV coach, made his offseason plans known to the ‘Dogs and they came through.
Le Jardin posted preseason wins over Honokaa, Pearl City, Maryknoll I-AA, Castle (twice) and Waianae. Throw in a six-point loss to Kaiser and a respectable 11-point loss to Maryknoll, and the 4-0 start (and 12-3 overall mark) is no shock.
“That’s expected when you put so much work in,” Powell said. “It’s new to them because they’ve never been in this position before, but they’ve accepted the challenge. It’s real to them.”
The Bulldogs have a six-man rotation, typical of a small school that has three freshmen and three sophomores on the roster. Their games had been played at a moderate pace, mostly in the 40s, 50s and 60s, until Tuesday’s rollicking 87-80 win at Hawaii Baptist. They overcame a 47-point outburst by HBA’s Micah Mitchell by using a balanced attack.
Jerry Lawson (21 points), Mitchell Hashimoto (20), Dominic Venezia (18), Corey Grip (14) and Charlie Abe (12) all contributed to what may be a signature win for Powell and the Bulldogs. Even with HBA missing some key players (volleyball trip), they overcame what might go down as Mitchell’s career highlight game. And they did it without making a 3-pointer.
Lawson is a 6-foot-3 junior (18 points per game) and Hashimoto (11 ppg) is a 6-3 senior. After the win over HBA, the Bulldogs went home and defeated Hanalani on Thursday 67-56. Even after going toe to toe with the racehorses of Hawaii Baptist, the Bulldogs stood steady.
“We came in knowing the whole (HBA) game would be crazy, but we knew we could run with them even though Coach (George) Weeks is running 11 guys. We wanted to prove that we could do it,” Powell said. “If you fight it and try to slow it down, and you’re unsuccessful, then we’re putting undue stress on ourselves. There was no hangover effect.”
On the court, the Bulldogs just want to remain healthy as possible. Before the HBA game, they nearly kept two players on the bench due to lingering injuries.
“We didn’t decide until an hour before the game that they’d play. Our schedule is busy. We pretty much play every other day, so we have walk-throughs and fine tune with position coaches,” Powell said. “We played a heavy preseason knowing that we’d have maybe a six- or seven-man rotation.”
LJA now has wins over every team in ILH D-II except St. Francis and University. It’s a league that is nearly as competitive as ILH D-I, where there is no bottom and no top, really. A state-tourney berth is within reach, but league play is a gauntlet.
“We’re changing. It’s a culture change. We worked them so hard that they can’t help but want to showcase that,” Powell said. “We’re not the same Le Jardin that people are accustomed to seeing. We’re learning what competing really is, the emotional highs and lows dating back to last season. So many games ended in heartbreak, the last 30 seconds of the game.”
Powell took the squad to California earlier in the season.
“They hold each other accountable and they genuinely enjoy each other on and off the court. We took a trip to Santa Cruz and they’re even closer now,” he said.
He has no second thoughts about leaving the comfy confines of his alma mater, Saint Louis.
“You always want to coach at your alma mater, but I don’t regret it right now. I don’t think I ever will,” he said. “Le Jardin is a great community with great kids, a great athletic staff and administration. Everything is positive.”