Kailua rallied around Ellis en route to D-II crown


POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

They were a team of potential, way back at the start of the season.

Despite a 3-8 nonconference record, Kailua regrouped, healed up and found itself winning the Division II state championship with a 53-36 victory over Castle in the final.

Tim Harrison, a Kailua graduate, had seen this kind of material before. In fact, it was only two seasons ago that he had a talented Surfriders squad much like this one.

“;That team was the two seed in the East,”; he recalled. “;We had a lot of potential there, but I wasn't able to get them to reach that potential.”;

That team lost to Moanalua in a play-in game and never appeared in the state tourney.

This year's squad, led by versatile Kenny Ellis and strong backcourt scorers Dylan Farias, Corey Lau and Kauila Miller, went 20-11, winning 17 of its last 20 games. They weren't a standard D-II team. Ellis, at 6-foot-4, teamed with big Alii Kaiama (6-3) and Calen Friel (6-3) to make the Surfriders a force inside.

Perhaps more telling of how good they were: Coaches and media voted the Surfriders to a No. 7 ranking in the final Star-Bulletin Boys Basketball Top 10. That's a big jump for a team that struggled against stiff D-I competition in December. One sign that the Surfriders could possibly blossom was the leap they took between two losses to Punahou.

Kailua lost to the Buffanblu 62-45 in the opening round of the James Alegre Invitational on Dec. 11. Nine days later, at Punahou's tourney, Kailua stayed close in a 43-35 loss. Ellis returned to the team that week after months of rehab on his leg injury, suffered in the early part of football season.

Ellis was projected to return in February, possibly January. His consistent rehab work and persistence with coach Harrison were enough to get him back on the hardwood.

“;He really showed a lot of leadership at states,”; Harrison said. “;I liked that.”;

At seventh in the poll, Kailua finished ahead of Saint Louis, Waiakea and Lahainaluna, as well as former ranked teams like Radford, Baldwin, Castle and Mid-Pacific. It's a sweet finish for a squad that was demoted to D-II by Oahu Interscholastic Association administrators in an antiquated system that leaves large schools competing against small ones.

“;They were disappointed at first that they were in the White,”; Harrison said. “;I think we would be a better team today if we were in the Red (Division I). That was the tough part of coaching this year, getting the guys motivated for every game.

“;In the Red, we would've held our own. I don't know if we would've played for the championship, but against Kalaheo, Mililani, we would've competed with them, especially late in the year.”;

Regardless of the designation, the Surfriders developed as Harrison insisted that his guards push the tempo and share the ball more.

“;Getting them to pass the ball was key. They dribbled too much,”; Harrison said. “;Corey's development was big. The guy is so ultra-conservative.”;

Lau, who scored 13 points in the D-II final against Castle, moved from the point to shooting guard most of the time. Farias, who had 18 points in the final and was named the state tourney's most outstanding player in D-II, switched to the point. When Kailua faced fullcourt pressure, Lau moved back to the point.

Miller, a transfer from Kamehameha, was equally important on both ends of the floor.

“;Getting my three guards to play together and trust one another, that was a big thing,”; Harrison said. “;They were all capable of scoring big. They realized it didn't matter who scored.”;

Defense, he added, was the difference.

“;We had good halfcourt man-to-man,”; Harrison said. “;Our defense is what carried us all year.”;

Getting Ellis back, well, that was the X factor. He had a promising football season cut short after suffering his injury in a scrimmage with Kapolei, but helping the basketball team to a state title may have eased his pain a bit.


Boys Basketball Top 10

The final Top 10 high school boys basketball teams as voted on by coaches and media from around the state. First-place votes in parentheses. Ten points for first-place votes, nine for second, eight for third, etc.

Team, RecordLast gamePTS.PVS.
1. Kamehameha (28), 22-3beat Kahuku2801
2. Kahuku, 24-3lost to Kamehameha2512
3. 'Iolani, 23-6beat Kaimuki2223
4. Kaimuki, 20-11lost to 'Iolani1984
5. Punahou, 19-11beat Kalaheo1665
6. Kalaheo, 20-11lost to Punahou1246
7. Kailua, 20-11beat Castle58
8. Saint Louis, 14-7lost to Punahou568
9. Waiakea, 21-6lost to Punahou457
10. Lahainaluna, 12-8beat Radford36

» Also receiving votes: Radford 26, Baldwin 25, Kohala 20, Campbell 12, Castle 11, Mid-Pacific 8, Keaau 1, Moanalua 1.

» No longer in top 10 (previous rank): Baldwin (No. 8), Campbell (No. 10).