Matsuda offers more than stability to Punahou

It’s not just about stability.

When Punahou hired Darren Matsuda to guide its boys basketball program on Friday, it was about reaching the pinnacle. The program now has its fourth coach in six years — astounding turnover for any team, let alone one at the No. 1-rated athletic department in the nation.

But hiring within means the pipeline to Punahou will likely continue. Matsuda engineered one of the top basketball clubs in the state, the Sharks. Only the Raiders, a club manned primarily by rival ‘Iolani players, performs at the same elite level as the Sharks.

It’s no different from top volleyball players landing at elite programs via connections with teammates and coaches. The same can be said of girls basketball, baseball, soccer… excellence is both lure and seeker.

Matsuda’s four years at Punahou as an intermediate and varsity coach are unique, to say the least. He’s learned from Dan Hale and Alika Smith, but also has familiarity with returnees like Malik Johnson and DeForest Buckner. He coached the Buffanblu summer league team and plans to be around for quite some time.

If Punahou is patient, titles will come. Assistant athletic director Kale Ane believes no other coach will outwork Matsuda, a student of the game who rarely stops studying. Even Matsuda, 38, looks at the game’s top coaches and continues to take notes.

“Dean (Shimamoto of ‘Iolani) and Jesse (Nakanishi of Kamehameha) have done great jobs the last two years,” Matsuda said. “I’ll definitely plan on using our depth and athleticism. We’ll use our height. We’ve got athletes.”

In his one season with Punahou, Smith gave his team the freedom to roam and run much of the time. There was no prolonged emphasis on getting the ball inside to Johnson (6-6) or Buckner (6-7), which resulted in brief, if effective, scoring bursts for the then-sophomores.

Johnson’s experiment with football is over. He mostly sat on the bench as a first-year wide receiver, and is now planning to spend the remaining offseason working on his game. Matsuda views Johnson as a potential 2 guard at the next level.

Punahou lost a truckload of talent to graduation, including defensive player of the year Henry Cassiday and shooting guard Taylor Crabb. However, they gain a 6-7, 230-pound junior in Luke Kaumatule, one of the state’s top football prospects.

Kaumatule’s emergence is a big plus considering the graduation of sturdy sub Kaiwi Crabb.

Question now, personnel-wise, is whether Punahou’s new backcourt can provide enough consistency for the state’s top frontcourt.

Matsuda knows this. Though it is the middle of summer, he’s already looking ahead and sees big obstacles.

“‘Iolani picked up Duke Pauli,” he said of the talented Kapaa transfer. “Kamehameha’s tough. If AOP gets all the guys they expect, it’s going to be tough again in the ILH.”

Ane, the most experienced active head football coach in the ILH,

“We’re optimistic he can do the job. He knows the academics, the coaches. He’s been here,” Ane said.

Coincidentally, Ane and Matsuda, both generally laid back in style, but intensely focused in battle, have another common denominator.

Ane hasn’t given up yet on getting Johnson back on the football field. He sees a near endless well of talent in the nimble, tall athlete.

However, if Johnson is going to play guard in the college ranks, he’ll need to improve his shooting range and backcourt skills. That may not happen if he spends each fall on the gridiron. Matsuda may have Johnson play guard this winter, a 6-6 ballhandling force rarely seen in the islands.

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser


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