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Mugiishi at ease with legacy left at 'Iolani


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POSTED: Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The rumors started about one year ago.

Could the most successful Hawaii high school boys basketball coach of the past two decades actually be considering a departure? At the time, Dr. Mark Mugiishi had no official comment, but clearly, he wasn't at ease with the way his team finished the year.

That's why it was no surprise when he returned for his 20th season. He was relaxed, prepared and excited. So was his team, which went on to lose in a close one to Kahuku in the state semifinals.

The Raiders then beat Kaimuki in the third-place game, and an amazing run by a coach who never played the game was over. "Doc" hemmed and hawed a bit when asked about his plans after the state tourney, but after taking some time off, he made his decision.

Stretched thin with his medical practice, teaching at UH, a role with a biotech start-up and as medical director at HMSA, Mugiishi knew something had to give.

"We always tell the players, the way you become good at something is you make sacrifices and have single-minded focus," he said. "I can't look them in the eye if I'm not doing that as a coach."

Mugiishi, 49, made the announcement to his team on Monday afternoon.

"I expected him to be back for one more year," junior guard Kainoa Chu said. "I'm surprised."

Mugiishi is at peace with his decision.

"It's been a great run. I've been very, very fortunate to touch the lives of many, many kids that I'm proud to have known and coached. It's time to give somebody else the opportunity to do the same thing," he said late Monday night.

Mugiishi's teams went 463-125 and won seven state titles, including an unprecedented five in a row from 2002 to '06. Derrick Low emerged as arguably the best prep player in state history to start that run, and new stars like Kyle Pape kept the streak going.

With rarely-seen height—twin brothers Cord and Brad Anderson transferred from Hawaii Prep—Mugiishi's early teams slowed the pace and pounded the ball inside. As his teams got smaller and quicker, the surgeon implemented new offenses and defenses. By the time 'Iolani was in the midst of its title run, which included 10 ILH crowns, its trapping defensive schemes were feared by most opponents.

He always adapted his schemes to fit personnel. Though his early teams often spread the court midway through a fourth quarter and killed the clock, recent 'Iolani teams usually went full speed until the final 2 minutes because, as he said, they weren't quite as equipped to slow the pace.

With Mugiishi's retirement, the list of Hawaii veteran coaches dwindled significantly. One of the long-timers is Moanalua coach Greg Tacon, who was at Punahou for five seasons.

"Winning championships at 'Iolani is just a result of doing what you're supposed to do on a daily basis," Tacon said. "What we were able to do at Punahou, that was a terrific rivalry centered around friendship and good sportsmanship. I'm going to miss his friendship. That goes above what he does as a coach and as a doctor."

Mugiishi's teams traveled to exotic locales: Italy, Japan, New York, Boston, Okinawa, Korea, Tennessee.

"I enjoyed those trips," assistant coach Bernie Ching said.

Senior Pablo Warner, a musician off the court, won't forget his coach, either.

"He liked to use a musical analogy to explain things to me," Warner said. "He talked about crescendos."

Assistants Dean Shimamoto and Adam Wong, who played on the 1993 state title team, could become candidates for the vacant position.