There’s a reality about heat. Fire. Combustion.
Control the intensity, results can be good. Better than good. Allow the temperature to rise above the boiling point, trouble could brew. The most fiery coaches may struggle to communicate with their teams. Sometimes, the most intense teams have a coach who knows the right time to turn the heat up or down.
Right now, Konawaena girls basketball coach Bobbie Awa is keeping the tone, and heat, low enough. There’s not much else she can do but embrace the youth and inexperience of her 2016-17 Wildcats, who arrived on Oahu with an 8-0 record.
In a 79-39 loss to the nation’s No. 2 team, Archbishop Mitty (Calif.), on Thursday night, the Wildcats were clearly an underdog despite being the defending champions of the ‘Iolani Prep Classic. What was surprising is that aside from Cherilyn Molina (11 points), there was no offensive initiative. Yes, the 30-plus turnovers derailed most possessions, but the Wildcats seemed to fizzle after breaking Mitty’s fullcourt pressure. A program so familiar with backdoor cuts and passes for layups didn’t get those opportunities. The Monarchs practically dared the Wildcats to attack with the dribble.
Mikayla Tablit finished with two points. Celena Jane Molina wound up with five. The will to attack and take the contact, get to the line and establish quality possessions — something Konawaena had done well for so many years — was severely lacking. Tablit, a smaller guard with ultra quick hands and blow-by speed, struggled against a physical, big man-to-man defense. Celena Jane has faced taller defenders all of her career and succeeded most of the time. But her 3-point shot and explosiveness to the basket — a must with the Monarchs cutting off passing lanes and daring the Wildcats to beat them off the dribble — were rarely on display.
“She’s so quick, you have no idea,” Awa said of the volleyball standout and former soccer player. “She’s just not comfortable with doing that yet.”
Help is not coming. The Wildcats are who they are. Awa has three very experienced and skill players — the All-State Molina sisters and Tablit — who have been part of two state championship teams — and six others who saw little to no playing time until this year. One of them never played high school basketball until this season.
The most comparable situation for Awa was roughly a decade ago when Mana Hopkins was the key player on a Konawaena team that had just made its first run through state titles. Once Jessica Hanato, Jazzmin Awa-Williams, Nancy Hoist, Hina Kimitete and that crew graduated, Hopkins, the bouncy, tall, long and energetic scorer/rebounder, was basically on her own. Konawaena won the BIIF, but lost in the state-tourney quarterfinals despite a yeoman’s effort by Hopkins.
That team had less talent, Awa said, than the current Wildcats. But there’s an argument to be made that the Hopkins-led Wildcats overachieved, and the current squad could wind up underachieving this season.
Awa knows where to begin. At game’s end, with the gym nearly empty after four games in the opening round, she yearned for a chance to show her team the game video. Exhibit A? Defense.
“That was the worst transition defense we’ve had in a long time,” said Awa, who has guided Konawaena to seven state crowns in the past 13 seasons.
Awa has done her fair share of teaching and then some. The first Wildcat state champions all grew up playing for her in the Kona Stingrays program, starting at age 6, 7, 8. It’s not necessarily that way now, not with the struggle to maintain numbers and even field a JV team at Konawaena. Every year, young multiple-sport athletes enter high school, opting to play their other favorite sport, soccer.
Awa isn’t about to make excuses, though. She was accommodating enough, not because she was in a great mood, but because she seemed ready to get straight to work as soon as possible.
“There are no good quotes. We got our (tails) whooped,” she said. “We will practice tomorrow.”
Awa knew there would be a dip and a learning curve. Chanelle Molina, the three-time All-State player of the year, graduated and moved on to Washington State. Ihi Victor, the tough, strong and agile stretch 5, also graduated. Victor, another All-State selection, now plays at St. Martin’s College (Wash.).
Losing two huge cogs in the green machine wasn’t going to be easy. So why bring a team this raw to a tournament featuring three illustrious programs that are ranked No. 2, No. 9 and No. 14 in the country?
“This is the best tournament every year. This is our measuring stick. We have to know where we’re at. Now we know what we have to work on,” Awa said.
The normally reserved coach had one promise, probably to herself more than anyone outside the team.
“They’re young, but we’ll be ready by states,” she said.
Ready enough to win another state title? Awa wouldn’t say no with more words, but there was that look. This may be the most challenging season on her ledger in a decade, but she is embracing it. Like the defense she expects of her players, Awa is ready to attack the challenge. In her calm manner, the fire inside is burning as much as ever. She is ready to go to work.
Not many will want to get in her way.