Experience and talent abound at Kahuku


POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

To get home, Hiram and Nehoa Akina went pretty far.






        With league play in high school basketball approaching, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10s, as determined in a poll of coaches and media members:


6. Kaimuki


5. Kahuku


4. Tomorrow



Hiram Akina, the North Shore resident and former college coach, was a wanted man in the good sense. As an assistant to Kahuku girls basketball coach Wendy Anae a few years back, he clearly had plenty to offer.

He was hired at Mililani to guide the boys program and teach classes. Akina moved to Mililani and son Nehoa, a promising player, joined him. Mililani, on the cusp of postseason success many times, had its best season in some time last year, going 20-11 (13-3 OIA Red), finishing sixth in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 and winning its first OIA boys basketball title.

Change, though, was in the air. Kahuku boys coach Nathan James stepped down due to health reasons. The school hired Akina, and son Nehoa followed once again.

“;I guess it was time for me to come back home, and it's worked out real well,”; Akina said.

After a 61-59 win over Punahou on Tuesday, the Red Raiders have raised the ante. The OIA Red East has always been tough, but this might be Kahuku's best team in years. Coaches and media voted the Red Raiders (2-0) to a No. 5 ranking in the Preseason Top 10.

“;Last night's win was a good indicator for us because last night was only our second game,”; Akina said of the win over the Buffanblu. “;Even though we won, I think these kids are able to really focus and concentrate on the defensive end. We had a lot of good stops.”;

Kahuku probably will move up in the next poll, perhaps above Punahou, but that's no concern.

“;They never gave that a thought, but they respected Punahou because they're the defending state champions. They know they've got a long way to go because of the new system we've put in place. They're realizing right now that they've gotta work hard to get better,”; Akina said.

On paper: The Red Raiders went 18-7 last season (11-4 OIA Red) under James. This time around, steady performers like Irwin Ah-Hoy and Aulola Tonga (6-foot-3) have more experience, as do Kona Schwenke (6-4) and Christian Feagai (6-7). Schwenke was a key contributor in last year's playoffs after moving up from the JV. Feagai will come off the bench for Akina, but might start occasionally in a twin-towers look.

The spark of the offense is Jray Galeai, who was tremendous last season and was voted to the Star-Bulletin All-State/Fab 15. He was dominant for a half in the state tourney, hitting 3-pointers and blazing past defenders. With Kamehameha on the ropes, however, Galeai suffered an ankle injury on a fast break, and the Red Raiders succumbed.

“;Jray is our go-to guy. He does so many things. Athletic and physically strong, but he has great basketball sense. I think he can play right now at a D-I school (in basketball),”; Akina said.

Galeai and Tonga, both Star-Bulletin All-State first-team defensive backs in football, are part of one of the most physically talented teams in the state.

“;Lola can really shoot the 15-foot shot and change a game,”; Akina said. “;Kona's tough inside. The coaches who worked with him really developed him. He reminds me of Junior Ah You. I always played against Junior when I was (playing) at Leilehua, and he's almost identical.”;

The skinny: Nehoa Akina switched from point to shooting guard upon his return to the North Shore.

“;He's stepped right in. Irwin wanted to play the 1, so I made the adjustment for him,”; Akina said. “;Irwin's a big, physical point guard and he's got some quickness. He really frees up Nehoa.”;

Super sophomore Shairone Thompson (6-3) is another key newcomer. “;He rebounds well and is fundamentally pretty close,”; coach Akina said. “;He'll be a big surprise to a lot of people. He played well against Punahou.”;

The chemistry is coming along thanks in part to Akina's magical touch. The Red Raiders will get many more tests this week in the Merv Lopes Classic at King Armory.

X factor: With all the talent and size, Akina is comfortable with his new players. There is no bickering or questioning about playing time and touches.

“;The best thing about these kids is they're so humble. They just want to play and have fun. They don't care about who's doing what, who's scoring,”; he said. “;They just want to go in and play real hard.”;