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.
“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.