HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Rebuilding Wildcats voted No. 4
Two state championships in four years is a momentous feat for any program.
When it happens at a small school like Konawaena, there are all kinds of reasons to celebrate. When the celebration is done, however, the question arises: Can the Wildcats do it again?
Top 10 Countdown
With girls high school basketball season approaching, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10, as determined in a poll of coaches and media members:
Voters in the Star-Bulletin Girls Basketball Preseason Top 10 think Konawaena has a shot with a No. 4 ranking.
"I think No. 4 might be a little high for us with what we have coming back," long-time coach Bobbie Awa said.
The graduation of All-State forward Jazzmin Awa-Williams and clutch sharpshooter Liana Hanato-Smith hurts. The 'Cats also lost Marisa Minor, a key rebounder, to graduation. Minor now plays soccer for Chaminade and Awa-Williams is playing hoops at Colorado-Colorado Springs, alongside former Wildcat standout Nancy Hoist.
Awa has only eight players on the roster, and one of them is gone part of the time due to soccer. Konawaena is the smallest school to win a Division I girls basketball state crown.
2006-07 record: 25-1 (14-0 BIIF).
On paper: The losses to graduation are always steep for Konawaena, but the talent pipeline is rich. Mana Hopkins returns for her senior season. The energetic 5-foot-9 post player poured in 26 points in the state final last year and helped lead the offseason regimen for the young Wildcats.
Also back is sharp-shooting guard Kara Hanato-Smith, younger sister of Liana. After Hopkins and Hanato-Smith, though, the 'Cats are more like kittens.
The Wildcats won the Moanalua tournament over the weekend, eking out wins over Kamehameha II, Moanalua and 10th-ranked Mid-Pacific. Konawaena will host No. 7-ranked Radford on Wednesday, another big test for the rebuilding Wildcats.
The skinny: With only seven full-time players -- Malia Tanaka joins the team when there's no soccer match or practice -- the Wildcats aren't pressing fullcourt anymore.
"We're still running, but we'll pick our spots when we want to run," Awa said. "I think we're rebuilding right now."
X factor: Awa knows what to expect from Hopkins, but getting an offensive flow will depend on Kara Hanato-Smith.
"Kara's gotta be that leader for us. She's gotta come up big," Awa said. Though Hanato-Smith is a deadly 3-point shooter -- she sank five against Moanalua in the second half -- Awa also wants her senior guard to be a creator.
"I would like her to be more aggressive offensively and attacking the basket, creating more scoring opportunities. It's tough because she's our best point guard," she said.