It wasn’t so long ago, really, when Latoya Wily was Kahuku’s unstoppable force in the paint.
At 6 feet tall with plenty of muscle, the nimble-footed Wily was relentless on both ends of the court. Great footwork in the low post, always working the angles and using her mind as much as her athleticism to get position and hit buckets, draw fouls and make life miserable for defenders.
In the spring of 2004 — back when girls basketball was played during the spring season in the islands — Wily was a force of nature. Kahuku reached the state championship game before losing to Konawaena. Wily scored more than 20 points per game in the state tournament and finished second in the all-state voting.
Her coach was Wendy Anae, who later became an assistant coach at Hawaii and is now assistant athletic director at BYU-Hawaii.
“Talk about determination, and you think of Latoya,” Anae said in a Star-Bulletin story. “She wanted it so much all year long. She carried our team with a great work ethic that started way back in the offseason.”
“Latoya is the Shaq of girls basketball,” Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa said. “You give her the ball inside and you can’t stop her. She’s a force who pounds the glass.”
Wily doesn’t spend any time talking about her playing days. Now in her first year as head coach at her alma mater, she knows her players were still toddlers when Wily was playing for Big Red. She accepted a scholarship to play at Alcorn State, then finished her career at BYU-Hawaii playing once again for Coach Anae.
Today, she is a counselor at Kahuku. Bespectacled and, almost, bookworms to an extent. She still laces up the sneakers during practice to bang against her players, but only occasionally. With Anae, her former coach, at Wednesday’s game against first-place Kaimuki, it felt like a reunion of sorts.
Wily’s team lost, 47-39, to a fast and skilled Bulldog team. She is in patient mode. The Lady Raiders are 6-3 and poised for a potential run in the late regular season and playoffs.
“You know I hate losing. We have inconsistency, and we’re working on the all the little things like boxing out,” she said. “They do improve. We just want it to improve all at the same time. We’ve got eight seniors and they all work very hard.”
In the decade or so since girls basketball in Hawaii peaked — at one point, there were multiple players on many teams who were college-level talent — the depth of skilled individual ballers has dropped. Kahuku, which had a club basketball team for girls back then, has seen athletes advance to the next level in many sports. Not so much in girls basketball. Wily is aiming to build from the grass-roots level.
“We’re going to start a club,” Wily said after a raucous senior-night, post-game celebration.
Developing players from a young age wouldn’t be new for Kahuku-district coaches and athletes. Keeping them focused on basketball, that’s an immense challenge. Wily, who was an assistant with the Lady Raiders before becoming head coach, is in this for the long haul. She might become more of a force off the court than she was on it.