It is no surprise that the Mid-Pacific Owls like what Ryan Hirata did over the last five years as boys basketball coach.
When Hirata returned to his alma mater, ‘Iolani, this spring, the logical move would be to promote assistant coach Robert Shklov. Mid-Pacific made it official on Friday afternoon, hiring Shklov as head coach.
Shklov played at Punahou and joined Hirata’s staff at MPI five years ago. The Owls lose some key seniors to graduation, including point guard Colin Ramos. In the ILH, there is wall-to-wall competition. Kamehameha will return nearly its entire, talented roster, led by Star-Advertiser All-State selection Christmas Togiai. Maryknoll loses key starters from its state-championship squad, but has a talented underclassmen group. ‘Iolani has been a perennial title contender for decades, and now has Hirata stepping into Dean Shimamoto’s shoes. Damien moves up from Division II after winning the state title, and was a Top 4 team all season long. Saint Louis hired former Punahou player and coach Dan Hale earlier in the week.
The challenge is part of the life Shklov has chosen. The teaching, the camaraderie amongst his coaching peers, is the joy element. Applying for the position was a must.
“I definitely felt a lot of support, especially from Coach Ryan. He mentored me while we were on staff together. I really wanted to be able to be the next guy. Of course, there were a lot of great applicants. I heard of a lot of great coaches who applied,” he said.
Shklov chatted with Hawaii Prep World about all things Owls boys basketball.
HPW: The complexity of coaching at a school that doesn’t have specialized funds for athletics, basically an Ivy League structure, in the state’s most difficult league — it’s amazing the Owls have been competitive year after year. And so challenging. And you want it.
Shklov: That goes back to how strong of a program Coach Ryan built. I was lucky enough to be a part of that. That, and with Darren (Matsuda) at Punahou, who is now the longest tenured coach there and I’ve seen the power of continuity. I do believe in the power of communication, and that’s why I’m a teacher. We have outstanding, academically gifted students at MPI. I have strong relationships with the students-athletes here.
HPW: Have you had enough time to start putting a coaching staff together?
Shklov: I do believe there’s going to be at least one coach (JV) who will go with Ryan, Eric Kam. His daughter is at ‘Iolani. (Assistant) coach Tim Shepherd is retiring from coaching. He was such a huge asset for us. I’m very lucky. I got support from returning coaches Nate Hu, Cameron Roberts and Travis Hayashi. They’ve been so supportive. I’ve been very lucky to call on a childhood friend, a KBA (Kailua Basketball Association) teammate, Neil Bowers. Between him and Nate, they’ve been varsity head coaches and they’ll help out a great deal. We will also have (former Punahou all-state guard) Nick Velasquez. He’s been texting me every day. He might play pro ball, but he’ll be here at least for summer.
HPW: One word to describe the process of applying, being interviewed, and hired.
Shklov: Emotional. I wanted to reiterate to them, I’m so proud of how the team plays and we’ve got good kids, they play really hard. They’re good sports and great citizens. They take academics seriously. I’m emotional about it because there’s a lot of stake, a lot of skin invested in this program and this school. I didn’t want to lose that opportunity to continue with them.
HPW: And yet, the odds are stacked against a program like Mid-Pacific.
Shklov: There is nothing more satisfying than to be able to put an effort with the kids we have, the type of kids they are, and be able to say we are competitive and nobody can overlook us. That’s a huge marker of success for me in this league. I was thinking about it. Every coach in the ILH has won a state championship as a head or assistant coach, over half of them has won as a player, half have been player of the year. I’m humbled to be in a room with them. It’s a challenge I look forward to. It’s very exciting. It’s not hard to motivate when it’s ILH season, when you’re the underdog and have a chip on your shoulder, and the kids have done that over the last two years.
HPW: Who are the returnees you’re looking forward to seeing take the lead next season?
Shklov: The guys to take a look at — Kamana Lapina will be a starter for four years. I’m going to lean on him heavily as my lead guard. We’re going to do a lot of different things, innovative things you’ve never seen before. He can execute that. The other seniors, we have Jayden Ramos, the brother of Colin. He’s going to sneak up on people because he’s tough, he’s smart, he can shoot.
Adonis Espania, another guy I’m excited about. His basketball IQ is through the roof. He’s a little bit like Andre Miller. A professor kind of guy who is bright and makes great decisions. Lucca Kitashima really stepped up for us at the end of the year. If there’s anyone I want to hang around Nick Velasquez it’s Lucca. He’s a threat anytime he touches the ball.
Two underclassmen. Kala Nakaya, if he has his head in the game, I think he’s a Top 5 player in the ILH. I’m going to push him until he gets there. I think highly of his skill set and he works hard every day. I can’t wait to see that pay off this upcoming year.
Elijah Kahue-Parker, who’s just a versatile, scrappy forward. Immensely skilled. He doesn’t know how good he is. Just a great kid from a single-parent home. That family is amazing in the support they give him. He had some injuries in his sophomore year. He’s been working hard in the weight room and I think he’s going to have a strong year.
HPW: That’s a solid base to work with, especially with Elijah being a physical, active 6-3 post, and Kala at 6-6, both going into their junior years.
Shklov: If there’s one more thing I can add, I’m thankful for the opportunity from (athletic director) Scott Wagner and the whole school and community. And I just remembered, (new Saint Louis coach) Dan Hale hired me one summer to coach the intermediate team (at Punahou) during his first year (in 2007). So that’s three coaches who really impacted my life in coaching.