Freshmen spark Punahou in Kuehu’s debut

Punahou's Shawna-Lei Kuehu, shown in 2006 posing for her Honolulu Star-Bulletin player of the year photo, led the Buffanblu to a win over Farrington on Wednesday in her first season as head girls basketball coach at Punahou. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

When Shawna Kuehu began to torch the Interscholastic League of Honolulu — and the rest of the state — as a dominant player, she was just a freshman.

Of course, in the 12 years that have passed, Punahou basketball has endured ups and downs. The world has changed in some ways. Kuehu was named Honolulu Star-Bulletin All-State player of the year during that freshman season of 2005, back when the girls season was still in the spring and Buffanblu hoops was at the crowning height of its dynasty. It was headline-grabbing stuff, to say the least. Kuehu, a 5-foot-10 post scorer with point guard ball-handling skills, was named state player of the year three times. The Buffanblu won three titles during her prep career, and during those years, she competed at the highest level in national tournaments against the likes of Maya Moore. Only a knee injury cost her a fourth title and POY honor.

The fire and poise were always there as she accepted a scholarship to Cal before playing for Hawaii, where she became an indispensable part of the Rainbow Wahine program. On Wednesday night, it was a cool and loose version of the once-unstoppable hoopster on the sideline. Kuehu’s debut as head coach at Punahou went smoothly, a 59-22 blowout of Farrington.

“We have a lot of young potential. They’re young, they’re hungry and they’re very coachable. It’s easy when you don’t have to (ask for) good attitude and effort,” Kuehu said. “I’m very blessed with that.”

In the earlier game at the McKinley Black and Gold Classic tournament, Maryknoll routed Kalani 73-31.

Punahou’s depth and skill level showed practically no signs of inexperience or youth. The Buffanblu got four quick points from returnee Tanisha Elbourne to start the game, and they led 19-0 entering the second quarter.

Perhaps equally appealing for Buffanblu fans: six freshmen also made their varsity debuts. Melody Lum, a ball-hawking guard, led with 11 points and five steals with just one turnover. She sank a buzzer-beating 28-foot shot from straightaway at the end of the first half as the Buffanblu opened a 38-11 lead. Lum was stoked about the shot. She hopped all the way to the bench, and was still going boing, boing, boing long after the half had ended.

Near the end of the third quarter, Lum picked the ball from a Farrington guard and sped her way to a layup, again at the buzzer.

Another freshman, Tamalani Fonoti, also had an impressive debut. Fonoti, a 6-foot-4 center, played roughly half the game and finished with seven points on 3-for-8 shooting, and she ruled the glass with 14 rebounds and two blocks. Seven of those boards were on the offensive end.

“We’ve been able to play together since we were little,” Fonoti said.

Punahou played Farrington in the McKinley Black and Gold Classic on Wednesday. Photo by Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

“It was kind of nerve-wracking starting out varsity as a freshman,” Lum said. “But I wasn’t nervous because I have the chemistry with (Fonoti). We know each other. I know what she’s going to do, she knows what I’m going to do. We know what each other is going to do in the back of our minds.”

Elbourne finished with eight points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal in a versatile performance. Liana Heshiki added eight points and five boards, and Kiarra Young tallied seven points. In all, the Buffanblu shot 42 percent from the field (23-for-54), including 2-for-15 from the 3-point arc. They were 11-for-19 at the free-throw line (58 percent) and had 12 steals. They also had 17 turnovers, not a bad figure for a freshmen-heavy team in its first game of preseason.

Ailani Talapu led the Lady Governors with six points. Setita Prescott added five points, all in the second half. Farrington shot 18 percent from the field (6-for-34) against Punahou’s active man-to-man defense. The Govs also shot 59 percent from the foul line (10-for-17), including 7-for-10 in the second quarter after reaching the bonus early. Punahou outrebounded Farrington 35-15. The Govs also had 25 turnovers.

Kuehu was there last season as an assistant coach.

“It’s going to be a growing process. We’re going to go through growing pains, but we’ll grow together,” she said. “You know what, the players have a good basketball IQ. They’re all looking to play at the next level. I hope I can help them get that experience.”

Fonoti hopes the Buffanblu win the ILH.

“If we work hard, we could,” she said.

Lum was a bit more direct.

“Yes,” she said.

That was an explanation point “Yes!”

Maryknoll 73, Kalani 31
The Lady Spartans, state-tourney runners-up in the past two seasons, got 10 points apiece from point guard Rhianne Omori, wing Chayse Milne and center Moe Notoa. Georjette Stietzel added nine points.

Heidi Kishaba had 10 points and Logan Luke tallied nine for the Lady Falcons.


  1. Pun Parent November 9, 2017 7:18 am

    Paul, only 13 kids tried out for varsity at Punahou. There were no cuts. My kid made the team. Thanks!

  2. South side November 9, 2017 7:41 am

    Also Miss Kuehu never went to Cal. She signed her letter, then skipped the mandatory summer school classes and never attended Cal. She sat out the 2008-2009 season where she worked for a boating company. The following season she met with Dana Dias and got invited to play for UH.

    Finally, I know Tama quite well. She is about 6’2, not 6’4. Knew her since baby kine days

  3. GovNation November 9, 2017 12:41 pm

    Sounds like lots of negativity from buff n blu parents for their Coach and players. Does it really matter? That your Coach worked before playing at UH. Or if Your post Is 6’2” or 6’3” Itʻs the only height you got! You Made it personal by mentioning her name and having to bring attention to it. Itʻs Unfortunate that you knew her So long and felt the need to call attention to 2 inches and be So detailed with the coach’s background.
    Hope Kuehu can make it work and your Young team sticks together.

  4. Dance Fevaaa November 9, 2017 1:55 pm

    Coach David Puni Lum should totes be the HEAD COACH of the girls bball program. The girls instead of wearing their warmup jerseys should wear warmup VESTS as coach puni does every single day. #24/7/364 #hammah #thatvestlifetho

  5. Another Pun Parent November 9, 2017 2:25 pm

    There are many embellishments written in this article. Now the prep world readers know who Miss Kuehu’s favorites are. What should be highlighted is the character that was shown by Farrington’s players and their fans. They kept playing despite the score, they didn’t pick on each other, the coach remained poised, they continued to be cohesive, and parents never became offended. They should be proud. So what does a few minutes of fame get you? Only future disappointment. But the heart and class of those Governors are what this article should be highlighting.

  6. Paul Honda November 9, 2017 2:53 pm

    Thanks, I’ll double check on that. I probably heard her wrong. It was LOUD inside and outside the gym.

  7. Paul Honda November 9, 2017 2:54 pm

    Tama said she is 6-4. I believe her. She’s about 5 inches taller than me and I’m 5-11. Could still be growing. Her, I mean. The only thing growing on me is this belly.

  8. Paul Honda November 9, 2017 2:56 pm

    You’re right about Cal. I should rephrase that. She accepted a scholarship to Cal, and we all know she never played there. It worked out in the end for UH and Rainbow Wahine fans.

  9. Falcon Future November 9, 2017 2:57 pm

    LOL, never let the true facts get in the way of fake news.

  10. turfwar November 9, 2017 3:35 pm

    Fonoti is already being recruited by Connecticut from what I hear. Now that would be a first for a local kid.

  11. Youth Athletics November 9, 2017 6:03 pm

    Thanks for writing the article and highlighting several Schools and players. Hopefully those not mentioned have something to aspire to. Her name is Tamaliʻi
    Fonoti. She is a Great kid and of Good character dont
    Think Shes favored or any of the other girls mentioned. How when they donʻt START! Maybe the ones mentioned contributed to the SCORE. Varsity is Competitve there to win. Dont see the problem and its pre season.

  12. The Hala Tree November 11, 2017 6:45 pm

    @young athletics, what are you talking about?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email