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StarBulletin.com

Kamehameha built title on its past


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POSTED: Monday, March 09, 2009

A lot can happen in the life of a 14-year-old kid.

For Auwae DeRego, all the cares of the world meant very little. As a freshman at Kamehameha, the burgeoning career in basketball and life away from home—Honokaa—finally began to feel comfortable.

But his life turned upside down when Alex, his younger brother, died that year. DeRego transferred back home to be with his family. It was a year of pain and a year of growth.

The promising corps of freshman talent—DeRego, Pi'i Minns, Conrad Scheidt and Kenny Ellis—eventually broke up. Scheidt wound up not playing basketball in his last two years and Ellis transferred to Kailua, where he helped the Surfriders win a Division II state title on Saturday.

But Minns made it through the ups and downs of high school and DeRego returned to Kapalama. Together, they provided the toughness and resilience that brought a boys basketball state title to Kamehameha (22-3) for the first time since 1992.

“;Sports played a big role in me coming back,”; DeRego said. “;I'm really thankful to Kamehameha Schools. I came as a boy and I'm leaving as a man.”;

The 47-45 win over Kahuku on Saturday was a prime-time clutch performance by the Warriors. Minns, a 6-foot-3 guard, eventually wore down a hard-nosed defense and finished with 20 points (8-for-15 shooting) and three steals. He struggled early when Kamehameha was in aggressive mode, but sealed the deal late.

“;Our attack wasn't working (early), but later, we went back to it with a two-man game from the top of the key,”; said Minns, who scored 10 of his 20 points in the final quarter.

DeRego, at 6-2, was a lanky swingman as a freshman, but developed into a burly two-sport athlete. His strength under the boards and quickness on the perimeter were key against Kahuku's mini mountains. He had eight rebounds and five points to keep the Warriors even on the glass (32 boards for each team).

The Warriors' blend of experience and youth was another key. Sophomore Micah Christenson had 11 points and a game-high three blocks. His season began with a flurry of 3-point bombs, but even when his marksmanship was off, the 6-5 swingman gave the Warriors rebounding and defense. He posed serious matchup problems for opposing teams.

That made life a bit more pleasant for coach Jesse Nakanishi, who brought Christenson up from the junior varsity team last year before the Interscholastic League of Honolulu tournament. Christenson, who also plays volleyball, is another Warrior who not only has Nakanishi's stamp of approval, but has an old-school, let-your-actions-do-the-talking kind of game that goes back to Nakanishi's guru, Jim Winchester. That long-ago state crown in '92 came with high-flying Kahi Villa in the limelight and Winchester at the controls.

Nakanishi has been part of his alma mater's coaching circle for more than a decade. With his staff, which includes twin brother Julian and Cavan Scanlan, Nakanishi extracted both cool composure and fiery passion from this year's squad. This probably won't be the only state title during his watch.

“;Personally, it's thrilling,”; Nakanishi said. “;But I'm proud of the boys. It shows what hard work can do.”;

For two other starters, stepping into the rarefied air of a state-title summit was a bit surreal. Christenson's grandfather, the late Harry Kahuanui, was a longtime coach at Kahuku who led the Red Raiders to an Oahu Interscholastic Association championship in 1968. Little did Christenson know that he would play a key role in preventing Kahuku from winning its first state title. Still, grandpa would've been proud.

“;Coach (Nakanishi) emphasized boxing out their 6-8 and 6-5 guys,”; Christenson said. “;They were fighting with us, really battled in the paint.”;

Point guard Chaz Bajet's father, Kimo, was a standout guard at University High in the mid-1980s. The Jr. Rainbows won the ILH three times, but never got past the state semifinals, all played at the same site of this year's D-I semis: Blaisdell Arena.

“;He told me after the game, 'I got one over you, dad,' “; Kimo Bajet said, grinning from ear to ear.

For DeRego, simply playing the game was cathartic in the months after Alex died. It's been three years, but Alex is still in his heart.

“;Basketball got my mind off some things,”; he said. “;When coach asked us before the (championship) game to make somebody proud, I thought of my brother. Every time I shoot free throws, I think of him.”;