OIA WEST BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
Race for crown is wide open
Kapolei, Mililani, and Leilehua are among the hopefuls
THERE WERE few coaching changes in the Oahu Interscholastic Association West.
The changes that occurred, however, are big. At Mililani, longtime junior varsity and varsity coach Mike Coito was released. Former Trojans assistant Hiram Akina, whose connection to the school goes back three decades, is the new coach.
At Kapolei, Darren Camello stepped down to become the school's new athletic director. In his place is longtime assistant and JV coach Gary Ellison.
At Campbell, longtime teacher Bobby Samson is the new coach.
With new head coaches at the West's three largest schools, change may be in the air on the court as well. Kapolei has improved significantly over the years, but has yet to qualify for the state tournament. Mililani, with an influx of height, has enough shooting this season to make a run for the OIA title.
There's more, of course. Kai Enos is extracting Goliath-sized defensive efforts from his Radford Rams. Defense is a major reason why the Rams have been highly competitive in nonconference play, leading to a No. 8 ranking in the Star-Bulletin's first Top 10 poll of the year.
Leilehua has its tallest squad in the long reign of coach Keith Spencer. The return of a key guard, along with some important returnees, make the Mules a darkhorse contender in the West.
Campbell, with a trio of standout returnees, showed vast improvement over the past month. Samson, who was the girls coach at Maryknoll for years, is pleased to be back in boys basketball.
The sleepers in the West are Nanakuli, which posted some big wins in December, and the fastbreaking Aiea Na Alii.
"Nanakuli is big and talented, and they like to run," Leilehua coach Keith Spencer said. "They're gonna be a surprise this year. The division is a lot tougher, anyone can beat anyone else at any given time."
A look at the OIA West squads:
Aiea Na Alii
On paper: Na Alii return several players, including four starters -- Lofa Liilii (5-10), Kali Kuia (5-9), Seth Nelson (5-11) and Jerry Miller (6-4). Of those four, three are seniors.
"Having those four guys back makes it more comfortable. Lofa, Kali and Nelson, along with Kekoa Baptista, are capable long-range shooters," Amosa said. "I just don't want them to shoot it too fast. Jerry could dominate this league if he puts his mind to it. Our guys are humble, and sometimes they pass up 6- and 8-foot shots. I want them to shoot that."
Skinny: Aiea is definitely a stronger team this year, but the West is also a tougher division. Qualifying for states is still not an easy proposition, but Aiea's height and uptempo game will certainly keep most foes off balance. How far Na Alii go will depend largely on how they handle slow-down games.
On paper: Ryan Hayes (5-9) may be the best point guard in the West. Slippery and savvy on the perimeter and near the basket, Hayes' skills mean the Sabers are always a threat to score. Tristan Sealy is a slasher who will have much more playing time to help Campbell put points on the scoreboard.
Skinny: They aren't as big as last year's team, but the Sabers still have adequate size and quickness.
On paper: The Hurricanes are loaded with returning starters, depth, scoring and height. Brad Padayao (5-10) is among the league's top guards, and Pookela Ahmad (6-2) and Cameron Moody (6-2) give the 'Canes a pair of tough bookends in the low post.
Skinny: Kapolei will probably see plenty of zone defenses, which means there's room for at least two more consistent perimeter shooters.
On paper: Clayton Laurel, a 6-3, 255-pound senior, is one of the top post players in the state.
"The boy has really good feet, that's why UH really likes him. Basketball is still his first love, but he realizes football will give him his scholarship," Spencer said of Laurel, a defensive lineman who accepted an offer from Hawaii recently.
Of Leilehua's four returnees, Laurel is the only one who played big minutes last season. Guard Kennedy Orteza is back from an ACL injury and has moved to the 2 spot.
Skinny: The Mules have come a long way since their opening week of play at the James Alegre invitational.
"At Radford, we looked very inexperienced, but the last two games at the Iolani Classic we really started to come together," Spencer said.
On paper: Unlike most of the OIA, which has a dearth of shooting talent, the Trojans upgraded this season. Returnees Ken Moses and Nick Kanno have shown flashes of scoring ability, but the arrival of University High transfer A.J. Clark is a huge plus.
Clark's ball-handling skills are superior, but he is usually the 2 or 3 in Akina's lineup. All the better to take advantage of his slashing and passing skills. Donovan Olmos is a streaky long-range shooter who will get a lot of looks thanks to one of the tallest lineups in the OIA.
Skinny: Akina's vast experience in prep and collegiate basketball make him a Yoda of sorts. His patience and teaching mentality are valuable for a team that needs to develop chemistry quickly.
Nanakuli Golden Hawks
On paper: Kalai Kahalekai and volleyball standout Anson Amaral provide some of the scoring output, and Levi Luavasa gives Nanakuli points and rebounding.
Overall, the Golden Hawks are bigger and better, and the results -- an 84-point outing against Kalani and a 72-point game against Castle -- show it. Wins over Damien and Punahou (the Buffanblu played without several starters in the early nonconference matchup) build confidence.
Still, the Hawks aren't quite ready for prime time just yet. Tenth-ranked Kalaheo derailed them by 24 points. Sixth-ranked Kahuku handed Nanakuli a 65-44 loss at the Iolani Classic. And the Hawks managed just 32 points in a 15-point loss to No. 8 Maryknoll, one of two losses to the Spartans.
Skinny: Coach Lum has more talent to work with than usual, but until his team establishes its identity, the Golden Hawks will continue to fluctuate.
Pearl City Chargers
On paper: The Chargers showed potential from the start of preseason, losing close battles to Moanalua (55-48) and Roosevelt (49-45). Getting over the hump has been challenging for a squad that lacks immense height.
Travis Cruz and Karlo Rarangol are among the Chargers who provide points, but the team needs more to make a serious playoff run.
Skinny: The lack of weapons isn't necessarily a bad thing for Villarmia's team. The Chargers are learning to play within their limitations, which will be important in a division that lacks accurate shooting. If they buy into Villarmia's pleas for strong defense, the Chargers could steal a playoff berth from one of the favorites.
On paper: Every player on the roster knows that defense is Priority No. 1 with Enos. That's why the Rams have survived horrific shooting performances to earn a number of impressive wins.
Gary Satterwhite, a 6-2 junior, and guard Mike Sooto have been the offensive sparkplugs. Center Mike Goodman, a 6-5, 270-pound baseball prospect, anchors a rugged, quick defensive-minded frontcourt.
Skinny: Despite missing 41 free throws, Radford rallied to beat OIA East contender Moanalua. The Rams also have wins over No. 7 Maryknoll, eighth-ranked Baldwin and No. 10 Kalaheo.
On paper: The Bulldogs are scrappy, as always, but not deep. Joshua Whittaker, Marc Nacapuy, Edwin Rubio and Bernard Menor give Waialua scoring punch.
Skinny: As a team, defense is an issue.
On paper: Junior Faliuga is back to anchor the Seariders' low post. He and Liko Manuel (6-3) give Waianae a defensive presence, and Faliuga's hustle on the offensive glass is matched by few.
Skinny: The Seariders will have a different pulse this season since the graduation of Star-Bulletin Fab 15 selection Xiro Naovalath. The high-scoring guard returned to Minnesota after last season, and ball-handling has been a point of concern since.
"It's a little different in terms of trying to be more patient on offense and take better percentage shots," Maeda said.
On paper: The Marauders struggled with some tough losses through nonconference play, including a 49-44 loss at home to McKinley.
Key returnees include guards Rowel Rivera and Jamar Pacupac, both seniors.
Robert Donley, a 6-1 junior forward, is a transfer from Grace Christian Academy (Calif.) who will help under the glass. Castro Masaniai, a 6-3 junior, is up from the JV and will help on the low post.
Skinny: As long as the Marauders control the tempo, they can compete with any team in the West.