HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS
Kuehu enjoyed her busy summer
The Punahou center traveled with a top California team
She certainly sounds like the same Shawna-Lei Kuehu.
Maybe she's just a tiny bit more excited, but the Star-Bulletin's two-time player of the year in girls basketball still has the same perspective, even after a solid performance recently at the Nike Elite national tournament.
Kuehu was invited by the California Storm basketball club to play in the tourney after the visitors lost to Kuehu's Kalakaua Wahine team here in June. Facing the best players in the nation, she found the pace exhilarating.
"They ran with the ball. They didn't run that many sets. They just played basketball," she said. "Down here, we run sets and run only sometimes. Up there, it's fast-paced games."
The tempo did her good. Kuehu, who plays center for Punahou, was a free-ranging wing on the mainland. She finished third in scoring at the tourney at 17.1 points per game.
"Coach George (Quintero) said I'm more of a wing type, so he put me there, getting me more experience for college. It was a lot of fun," she said.
One of her assignments was to cover Maya Moore, the top recruit in the country. Moore has already committed to Duke.
"I did pretty good guarding people. To get better, I had to play tough on her. She's the best in the country and they wanted me to stop her," said Kuehu, a 5-10 senior. "Up there, it's more intense. Not only was everyone so athletic, but as a team, everyone played their hardest, as if it was their last game. Because we all love the game."
Kuehu's busy summer meant fewer waves at the beach, but the initial invitation from the Storm was a shock.
"At first, when I got (the invitation), I was stoked, but I didn't know anybody. I told my mom I didn't want to do it, but she said it would be good experience-wise. But once I was there, traveling and playing basketball, it was so much fun," she said. "The best."
Kuehu may well be the finest girls basketball player to rise from the islands since Kamehameha's Nani Cockett, who went on to prominence at the University of Hawaii. There, crowds in excess of 6,000 came to Rainbow Wahine games in large part due to Cockett, a 6-foot swingman.
Hawaii is a possibility, but Kuehu's options have opened up tremendously. More than 30 Division I schools, including UConn, took notice of her during the Nike Elite tourney. She has family in Georgia, and even mainland food gets a thumbs-up from the Buffanblu junior.
She isn't looking too far ahead, though.
"I'm not even there yet. I'm still working on my skills, and some of the schools are really big. Sometimes I don't even know if I can play at that level. I won't doubt myself, but I don't have a certain school in mind right now," she said. "I think home schools have the bigger advantage, being closer to you, but not getting any letters from UH, I'm kind of shocked. Maybe they know I'm probably gonna go away."
UH coach Jim Bolla was at a previous tournament in Oregon where Kalakaua played. There may be interest, but Kuehu hasn't seen it.
"With everything happening now, it's not a guarantee I'm gonna stay home," she said. "I think they should try. It's never too late to try."
Ram tough: There will be no replacing of Radford's talented class of 2006.
All over the football field, the Rams lost college-bound seniors like lineman Ramsey Feagai, linebacker Russ Wantowski, running back Alex Daniels and quarterback Ryan Burciaga.
Coach Fred Salanoa, however, doesn't even keep track of losses and returnees. Every year, the former Eastern Washington slinger racks up the talent and starts fresh. How you did as a player last year means nothing to the fourth-year head coach.
"I don't care about that. It doesn't make a difference. It's who plays, who dedicates themselves. The way I run this program, I don't care if you start two years or three years for me," said Salanoa, who guided Radford to the OIA Division II (White Conference) crown last season. "Every single new season, you have to earn your position."
Every year, media count on coaches like Salanoa to get their teams suited up for photos. The teams that are prepared and orderly, for whatever reason, are usually the same ones that show consistency and success during the regular season.
Radford was one better yesterday, lined up and ready for photos before the 10 a.m. appointment. In fact, though Salanoa has come to dread off-field tasks. He understands the needs of media -- the local newspapers, an annual program for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu and Oahu Interscholastic Association, and other photographers -- but he'd rather take care of other priorities.
"Our philosophy here is family first, academics second and football third. If I had a free morning, I would have been spending it with my wife. I try to have one day a week, which is Saturday, when I can spend some free time with my wife, alone for at least 2 hours to reassure my love for her, to let her know that she's No. 1, not football," said Salanoa, who welcomed a third child into his family recently. "In fact, as soon as I'm done with this, I'm going to have brunch with her. We have three girls now and it's a handful for her."
Ann Kang nears: The top girls volleyball tournament in the state, the Ann Kang Invitational, tips off Wednesday at Iolani School. The tourney draws elite teams from Hawaii and the mainland, including national power Mira Costa (Calif.).
The four-day tourney wraps up Saturday with championship final play.