Warrior war zone

They’re so young, and their lead point guard is just a sophomore.

I saw the future of the Kamehameha Warriors on Saturday and it was impressive. Even in a 47-42 loss to Roosevelt, they were gritty, relentless in the paint, and handled Roosevelt’s fullcourt press fairly well. It was in the halfcourt sets where the visitors came up with momentum-changing steals for buckets, and that’ll get better with time.

“We worked well on defense, communicating well on the bench,” sophomore point guard Mikiala Maio said. “Getting those rebounds, our girls stepped up.”

Facing tough competition early on — Roosevelt has already beaten defending state champion Punahou and Hilo — will help the Warriors.

“Roosevelt is a very competitive team, a high-intensity team. Good on transition. It was a good challenge for us in preseason. Our bench is deep. We just have to grow as a team together,” Maio added.

Just two games into preseason, there’s work to be done.

“Controlling our offense better, not panicking as much. We’re going to learn from the mistakes we made,” she said.

“I know we can get a whole lot better,” first-year Warriors coach Joseph Cho said. “We were right there all the way. A missed or made 3-pointer for us and who knows? We’ll keep pushing and see what happens.”

If his name sounds familiar, it maybe be because Cho is also the varsity football coach at McKinley. He spent three decades coaching football in Oregon, but he also was a basketball coach for 28 years, teaching girls and boys roundball. At Kamehameha, he has only three seniors on the roster, and right now only one is playing. Another is injured and may not return.

“When (former coach Darold) Imanaka left, I thought maybe the well was dry, but it really isn’t. We’ve got promising young players,” Cho said, mentioning talent all the way down to the intermediate level. “The skill level when I first saw the girls was more than enough.”

Despite the youth, learning a new system, getting used to a new coach, Cho expects his team to compete for a state-tournament berth. Kamehameha (1-1) is more than two weeks away from ILH regular-season play, so Cho has time. They’ll get better defensively, but that side of the ball was pretty tough. Roosevelt didn’t get a whole of open looks from 3, and that was a big reason why the Warriors rallied.

Offensively, it’s an interesting scenario. Breann Nueku didn’t play (injury), but sophomore Mikiala Maio — sister of former standout post Lilia Maio, center on the 2012 state championship squad — was just fine against tough on-ball defense. She learned a lot as a freshman backup a year ago, and it was a good sign for the Warriors that she was strong with the ball late in the game.

“Mikiala is really a perimeter player who can go down low and outmuscle the perimeter defenders there,” Cho said. “In our motion passing game, we can get her down there. She definitely has a good post game.”

Maio was a reserve last season, watching seniors like Alohi Robins-Hardy and Tiare Kanoa lead the way.

“The overall program is really different. This year, we’re a lot more team-oriented,” Maio said, referring to Cho’s pass-and-cut motion sets. “It’s challenging getting to know the new system, but it’s going well so far. We’re still learning and growing as a team.”

Shantel Aleki is another key returnee who had a solid game in the post for Kamehameha.

“She was fighting the flu. She did what she could,” Cho said of their strongest post defender.

Coach Cho will sort things out with this young team, but it’s clear that his mandate is about defense, defense and defense. They made Roosevelt work hard for open looks, which is pretty dang good for a Kamehameha squad with mostly underclassmen. They’re buying into the blue-collar defensive effort. That’ll be their constant when the ILH schedule begins.

Krista-Denis Matsumura was another solid contributor against Roosevelt, particularly from 3-point range. At some point, defenses will zone the Warriors, and her role will be even more crucial. Brooke Kaawa looked very comfortable with the ball in the low post. If she gets eight to 10 touches there each game, she will be another formidable weapon for the Warriors.

For now, though, it’s about building blocks, one at a time. When he became a head girls coach in Oregon, he led his team to third- and fifth-place finishes at the state tournament. Next season, he plans on taking the team to Oregon for a preseason tournament.

Cho’s vision is becoming the team’s vision. Can the Warriors qualify for the state tourney in a brutally competitive ILH?

“I think it’s really possible,” Maio said.


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