Word got around quickly on the Big Island.
Then, Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 guard Kelsie Imai was called in for a meeting. Imai, Keeli-Jade Smith and Bethany Honma, Waiakea’s co-captains, met with their new coach.
Imai didn’t know a thing about Alika Smith, but she’ll learn soon enough that Smith led his previous team at Kalaheo to three boys basketball state titles. Smith replaces Brandon Kauhi, who was released shortly after the girls basketball season ended in February. Waiakea finished fourth statewide after winning the BIIF.
“We’ve been bugging our AD (Tom Correa) for the longest time. He said, ‘Stop asking already.’ But we want to have a good senior year,” she said. “We found out (Tuesday).”
Even months before Smith was hired by Waiakea to coach the girls basketball program, he mentioned to a reporter that he would apply for the job. It was so unexpected, it sounded like he was kidding. Why would a state-championship coach and (almost) lifelong resident of Oahu move to another island?
Smith coached at UH-Hilo for one season, after his playing career at Hawaii, and before his assistant coaching gig there. The former All-State guard and All-Western Athletic Conference performer was one of two finalists for the Waiakea position. Over the weekend, a youth coach from East Hawaii noted that Smith was a finalist. Smith was at a tournament in Hilo watching his son, Peyton, play for a local club team. Smith denied that he had applied then.
Word got around by Tuesday night that Waiakea had selected Smith over the other finalist, a coach from Kansas now living on Hawaii Island. Smith declined to comment. On Wednesday morning, Correa said the school was not prepared to make an announcement.
Waiakea ended a title drought by winning the BIIF last season under Kauhi, who was then released from his position. The Warriors hadn’t won the league since 2008, when Konawaena emerged as the dominant program. They reached the state semifinal round in ’18 and lost in the quarterfinals in ’19.
The Warriors won state championships in ’85 and ’86. Ten of the 14 players from last season’s team will return, including Imai.
The Smith family has a legacy matched by none in father-son state titles. The late Pete Smith guided the Mustangs to crowns in 1985, ’95 and ’01 at Kalaheo. Son Alika went 24-4 in one season at Punahou, then guided Kalaheo to a Division II title in ’12, and then the Mustangs took the ’13 state championship with a 60-54 overtime win over Maryknoll.
Two years later, the Mustangs edged ‘Iolani 53-45 for another state crown. Smith was released by Kalaheo after that season after he refused to sign a contract based loosely on positive coaching alliance principles. He had not coached in high school since.