HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hiram Akina has coached in many places, including Las Vegas and Arizona, and now he's back as the head man at Mililani, where he began his coaching journey.
Hiram Akina returns to Mililani to coach the boys basketball team
HERE IS A spring in his step once again.
If Yoda were a basketball nomad -- a hoops missionary -- he would be named Hiram Akina.
Thanks to modern technology, he can walk fluidly, crouch to shoot a basketball, squat to show a 6-foot-4 high schooler what low-post position is about.
For Akina, all 5-7 of him, the voyage continues. After 36 years of teaching the game, it is still a blessing. The teaching in itself is a reward, but the gift is simply being wanted.
After all, as everyone knows, even Yoda had his share of battles.
Basketballs draw iron and twine in the confines of Mililani High School's gym. The shooting drills at both baskets are fairly precise. But the coordinated drills are deceptive. Tryouts for the varsity team are still in full swing. This isn't a team yet, not with 19 players on the floor.
The Trojans are diligent, quiet. When they break down for five-on-five halfcourt work, Akina is in mentor mode. The air is light and focused. Half an hour into practice, and not a single yell. Not yet, anyway.
PAUL HONDA / PHONDA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Coach Hiram Akina is back as the head man at Mililani, where he began his coaching journey.
Mililani basketball was a work of effort, desire and chipped paint last season. A roster filled with athletes, the Trojans simply lacked shooters. In the offseason, coach Mike Coito was released.
The program, which didn't have anyone over 6-2 last year, now has several players in the 6-4 range. Lacking consistent perimeter shooters a season ago, the Trojans now have an influx of skill players.
There's the returning guard, Nick Kanno, providing backcourt leadership. Another returnee, Ken Moses, has developed his shooting touch after attending six camps on the mainland, averaging nearly 20 points per game there. A.J. Clark, a 5-10 transfer from University, is versatile, able to play three positions.
David Rivers, once a gangly junior varsity player at Roosevelt, has matured into his 6-4 frame and shows promise in the paint. Returnee Brandon Dela Cruz, at 6-3, is a physical presence, as is 6-4 transfer Jon Vasquez. The Florida native is lean, but mean under the glass, Akina says. David Otte, at 6-2, is the smurf of the post players, but has oodles of work ethic.
BUT THE SURPRISE of tryouts has been Micah Kia, who has more than a dozen Division I football scholarship offers. At 6-5 and 290 pounds, he moves well not just for his size, but for an athlete who suffered a broken fibula just three months ago. In one of Akina's offensive sets, the '5' spots up at the 3-point line while the '4' posts up. Kia swished a 3-pointer in Mililani's nonconference win over King Kekaulike last week.
Letting a 6-5 center shoot the 3-ball? Akina may be 55, but old school, he definitely is not.
Mililani is a homecoming of sorts for Akina, who coached there after graduating from Leilehua in 1968. After coaching at both schools, he finally went to college at 27. He played at Brigham Young-Hawaii, a divorced father of two boys (Alan and Kawika). Then, the odyssey began.
He remarried, moved to Las Vegas, came back to finish school, got his degree, taught at Leilehua, coached at Brigham Young in Provo and then at Brigham Young-Hawaii. Then it was back to Las Vegas, where he taught and coached at Brinley Junior High, Valley High and Las Vegas High.
Then came Hopi High in Polacca, Ariz., where Akina joined a cousin, former Leilehua football coach Gary Clark.
Two years later, with wife Pam and their children (Kuulei, Hana and Nehoa), Akina moved to the outer limits of Phoenix. Arizona Boys Ranch was a last-hope institution for wayward kids from across that state. His family made the team teri-chicken plate lunches, homemade cookies, anything to make them feel like family.
"My family really loved the kids. They did everything for them," Akina says. The team was 19-7 and heading to the state tournament when Akina was fired. He wasn't mean enough to coach, but they kept him on campus in his teaching position until the school year ended.
"They expected me to swear at the kids, and I think what they were really seeing with the way I handled their basketball team was different, but we were winning," he says. "It was a situation where, they couldn't see the kids having fun and being successful without me doing it their way."
The next five seasons, Akina coached at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona. A visit back to the North Shore in 2003, however, changed everything. Seeing his grandson, who was 3 at the time, did it.
"My wife told me, 'You'd better find a job here.' So I went to the state office and put my name in," he says. A few weeks later, Akina landed the job, and he also began assisting Nathan James and Wendy Anae, the Kahuku boys and girls basketball coaches.
"Again, what a blessing. We felt like we were being guided by the man upstairs to where we needed to be," Akina says. By November of '04, he was in the hospital for hip-replacement surgery. The joint was arthritic and locked up.
"I HAD NO RANGE of motion. I couldn't demonstrate how things should be done," he said. "That's the biggest part of coaching, teaching and demonstrating. That was so frustrating. I would have to bring Nehoa to show how to do it."
Nehoa, now an eighth-grader, was making 3-pointers and left-handed layups at 5, so the demonstration wasn't a minus. For Akina, though, teaching is the essence of joy, so he went under the knife.
Eventually, word spread that the Mililani position was open. In July, he bid Kahuku good-bye and was back with the Trojans.
"I was lucky to be involved for two years in the boys and the girls programs," he says.
Akina makes the daily trip from Laie to Mililani, and in a year, Nehoa will be a freshman, riding shotgun with dad to school every day.
Today, however, is where Akina is occupied.
"I love the kids at Kahuku. They're competitive, athletic kids. Just being around them, they were great young men, and I think I inherited quality young men, too, at Mililani," he says.
"They want to play. They'll have to learn and get into the system, but it's coming. You can see early on, they just gotta get some experience."
Experience is what Akina has to share in droves. Once a teacher, always a teacher, and now, he's a wanted man.