CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kameron Steinhoff and Punahou play Lahainaluna in the first round of the states tonight.
Leaving fear behind
Punahou basketball and football standout Kameron Steinhoff is an expert at taking punishment
Fear was in the air, no doubt about it. When Kameron Steinhoff stepped back into the athletic world in early winter, he did it with full approval of his doctors. Still, most fans wondered why he would push so hard to come back so quickly.
But there he was, posting up down low, taking punishment on defense -- No. 30 loves to take a charging foul -- and scoring up a storm. Just three months after suffering a ruptured spleen on the football field, he was at the top of his hoops game.
Twenty-two points against Hanford (Calif.). Twenty-four against eventual OIA champ Mililani. Then came a 27-point effort against Maryland's No. 2 team, Our Lady of Good Counsel. Twisting reverse layups. Pull-up 3-pointers from NBA range. The visitors won, just barely, but Steinhoff wasn't the object of sympathy anymore. He took hits from 200- and 250-pounders. He went airborne constantly.
"I don't think I've seen a guy take so many charges," coach Dan Hale said of the 6-foot-4 senior. "He just says, 'Don't worry, Coach. I don't have a spleen.' "
By the new year, Punahou was the No. 1 team in Hawaii.
"He's unassuming, just straight up," Hale said. "There's a huge amount of respect. When he says something, guys do what he says. He picks his points. That's a good leader."
Former second fiddle Kameron Steinhoff, with his six-inch scar, had become the man.
Fear be damned.
PROFILE: KAMERON STEINHOFF
After leading the Buffanblu with 18 points per game, Punahou's Kameron Steinhoff hasn't lost his focus as the team heads into tonight's states. Ups, downs, even the doubts are long behind him now.
» Ethnic background: Chinese, English, Filipino, French, German, Hawaiian, Irish, Japanese, Scottish, Swedish, Welsh
» Favorite movies: Superbad, A Walk to Remember
» Favorite athletes: Brett Favre, LeBron James
» Favorite food: Hawaiian
» Warm-up music: "Wait for You" by Elliott Yamin
WHEN KIDS ARE 4, a basketball is only slightly larger than their round, roly-poly heads. A pack of Charlie Brown-ish toddlers roaming up and down, left and right across an endless basketball court that may as well be an airport runway.
Kameron Steinhoff took his first official first shot in a purple uniform of the Pearl City Chargers in the Police Activities League. Even though he went to small private schools, he never left the program. The bobble-head years evolved into higher-level age-group play in PAL, and he kept growing along the way.
Shawn Steinhoff, Kameron's dad, is a Damien graduate.
Older brother Keoni starred at Damien and went on to start on the offensive line at Hawaii.
Kameron, the second of Shawn and Kathy Steinhoff's two children, knew purple quite well. By 2004, he was enrolled at Punahou, where his future as an emerging wide receiver and defensive back was bright. But Punahou is not exactly the average high school. Academically, he did fine and still carries a 3.0 grade-point average. It was, as many learn soon enough, a large institution with a competitive culture that can swallow you whole. Steinhoff, already an introvert to some extent, would not yield.
Unlike the small schools he had attended, Punahou just didn't taste right. By his sophomore year, Kameron was ready to leave. He skipped football for the first time. He may have looked the part of a Punahou kid, but Damien sure sounded like a better fit. Even Pearl City would've been right in his comfort zone.
Shawn and Kathy, blue-collar folks, insisted that he try harder.
"My mom said to stick it out. We argued about it every day," Kameron said.
But instead of giving up, Steinhoff gravitated to leadership. Then-coach Greg Tacon talked persuasively -- to his unheralded hoopster.
"He said he needed me on the team. He brought the Tactical (conditioning) program and we did the workouts for a year. It got us stronger, quicker. We jumped higher," said Steinhoff, who added 3 inches to his vertical leap in that offseason.
Steinhoff's love for basketball was pure. His work ethic brought camaraderie with older players like Ed Wong, Brenton Lee and Freddie Hart, seniors who took the sophomore under their wing.
Hale took over the program as Steinhoff entered his junior season. Steinhoff was a third option, more or less, to All-Staters Miah Ostrowski and Spencer McLachlin. After another offseason of nonstop training, Steinhoff's game expanded and exploded.
THE HIT WAS HARD. Clean. Direct. When Steinhoff crossed the middle of the field and took a fierce hit against No. 1 Saint Louis, oohs and aahs sounded through Aloha Stadium on that night of Sept. 21.
"When he got hit, I didn't think much of it. He popped back up," Shawn Steinhoff said. "I've seen him get hit worse than that."
Steinhoff laid there in agony for a moment, but got up and found his way to the sideline before going to the hospital with his family. There was blood in his urine, but the spleen injury hadn't been detected yet. After leaving the hospital late in the night, he was still feeling odd.
The worst was to come. Kathy Steinhoff still chokes up at the memory, but retells the details with the same composure she kept that morning. By 9 a.m., he was pale as a ghost, hadn't slept a wink and throwing up. He made his way to the sink, but that's when his body finally gave out. He collapsed against the mirror and went into a seizure. With Shawn at work, Kathy got Kameron down to the ground and called 911. After calling for help from a neighbor, Kathy stayed with her youngest boy.
When paramedics arrived, Kathy learned that he'd been bleeding internally the whole time. Within a few hours, he was in the surgery room. The spleen was removed in a 90-minute operation by Dr. Frederick Yost. Punahou football assistant coach Darryl Kan, also a doctor, arrived and kept the Steinhoffs updated every 30 minutes.
The prognosis was a double-edged blow for Kameron. Not only was his football season done, but his promising senior campaign on the basketball floor was over.
"I saw him that day, and if you saw him, you'd never think he'd be playing basketball eight weeks later," Hale recalled. "He said, 'Don't worry, I'll be there.' "
Steinhoff had double IVs and tubes in his nose and mouth, one to drain fluid from his guts, the other to help him breathe easier. Unable to eat, he laid there, worried, but rarely alone.
"Mom, what time are you coming back," he'd say when Kathy went to work.
Support from the Punahou ohana blew Kameron's mind. The guest list grew by the hour until it hit more than 100 visitors.
"The principal (Kevin Conway) was the first one there in the ICU," Shawn Steinhoff said.
A week later, he was out of the hospital. He had returned to school and slowly regained the weight he lost.
"I thought they were starving him in that hospital," teammate and close friend Manti Te'o said. "I didn't even know what a spleen was."
The spleen, in layman's terms, does the extra work that a liver can't do, filtering toxins out of the body. Steinhoff is now required to take annual flu shots, and every few years, he has to take a few more vaccination shots to protect himself. Precautions for his weakened immune system are vital.
Within two months of the injury, he healed up so well that his doctor changed the prognosis. Kameron was fit to start exercising again.
Once more of an observer, he now has another way to connect with the non-basketball world.
"The first thing he did was show us his scar," Te'o said. "I think he does that to attract girls. They're always saying, 'Hi Kameron, let me see your scar.' "
Shawn Steinhoff sees other changes.
"He used to be so quiet. I'm still surprised when he goes and shakes people's hands," he said.
Life's lessons count, Kameron says.
"I appreciate life more. I don't take life for granted. I learned how much my family really loves me," he said. "It brought us closer."
Punahou, ranked No. 2 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10, begins play in the state championships tonight against Lahainaluna. After leading the Buffanblu with 18 points per game, Steinhoff hasn't lost his focus. Ups, downs, even the doubts are long behind him now.
"We'll take every game one by one. We can't fool around. We gotta cut the crap out. We have a shot at a state championship. There's no joking around," he said. "Except maybe at the end."
Fear be damned.