Wednesday, March 24, 1999
By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Junior Amber Ehia has been a starter for McKinley since
her freshman year and is one of the main reasons the Tigers
will contend for the OIA East title this season.
A new youth
Underclassmen are playingBy Cindy Luis
a larger role on girls' varsity
basketball teams this season
They're younger. They're quicker. They're better at understanding the game.
Youth will be served -- and served up often -- during this girls' high school basketball season. More underclassmen are cracking the starting varsity line-ups, some even skipping the junior varsity level right out of eighth grade.
You're seeing it on all islands, at public and private schools, at traditional powers and not-so-successful ones. The numbers are growing and so is the sport.
"What I think is happening (is) so many more girls are getting involved at an earlier age," said Chico Furtado, coach of last year's state runner-up, Kalaheo. "With our Hawaii Basketball Academy on Sundays, we're seeing seventh and eighth graders that are very talented. Skill-wise, they're better than some of our junior varsity. There are more outlets to play, more opportunities for them to play at a younger age.
"One thing I've noticed is these players coming up have the basketball skills but also know the game of basketball."
Furtado points to two of his starters -- sophomore post player Brandy Richardson and junior guard Sharon Wahinekapu -- as examples.
"They were brought up living basketball and it shows," he said.
McKinley coach Jesse Victorino has just three seniors on his 14-player roster. The Tigers will again make a strong charge in the OIA East; junior Amber Ehia and sophomore Traci Torralva are two of the reasons.
Ehia, an all-league pick, has started since she was a freshman. Torralva, a transfer from Campbell, was the Tigers' leading scorer in Kalaheo's preseason tournament.
"I've grown up loving basketball," said Torralva, a 5-foot-7 forward who wears men's size 12 shoes. "We're young, but Coach knows how to bring out all the talent on our team.
"It's good to be a basketball player at McKinley. Girls' basketball is just as important as football."
Dennis Agena remembers a time when it wasn't that way. He's in his 33rd year of running the Kalakaua Basketball Clinic, a summer home to some 1,300 players aged 7 and above.
"When I started in the '60s, the girls were playing that six-man, halfcourt game where they had to pass after dribbling three times," said Agena. "It's really changed since then. I see a lot of quality at younger ages. The girls now have so many opportunities to play and there are more girls playing college ball out of Hawaii than boys.
"We are a clinic, not a league. I brought in a five-star coach from the mainland and he was impressed with the skills of players. He said they were over and beyond the national level, skill-wise, that Hawaii can match up with any state and that we are on the right track. (We) just need to work more on shooting."
Agena has seen the last nine high school girls' players of the year come through his clinic, including University of Hawaii players Melanie Azama, Nani Cockett and BJ Itoman. At least a dozen were playing on the mainland, from Puget Sound to Harvard.
Ed Hoo has experienced the phenomena with the Kalanianaole Athletic Club. Two years ago, a word-of-mouth town league started with about 100 girls.
"We're at about 300 now," said Hoo. "We started our league because I didn't see why the girls couldn't have as many opportunities as the boys. The more opportunities they have, they get better faster."
Both Agena and Hoo said that this current eighth grade class could produce one of the best group of freshman starters yet. Among the names to watch are Becky Hogue (St. Anthony's) and Rachel Kane (Punahou).
"You're seeing better players at an earlier age," said Maryknoll coach Mike Taylor. "I volunteer at Agena's clinic and those third- and fourth-graders are ahead of some of the older players. "
"What I see is the change in the level of commitment," said Victorino, McKinley's coach of 10 years. "(Last) Friday we were out of school but had a 2:30 practice. Traci (Torralva) came in from Ewa Beach by bus and was here at 1:30. Everyone was here by 2 and ready to go.
"You see the dedication. I can honestly say that girls' play is just a notch below the boys. Ten years ago, you couldn't compare it. Now you see people coming to watch a good game. We had a huge crowd for the Waiakea-Kamehameha game in our preseason tournament final on the night that was the state wrestling championship.
"Girls' basketball has come a long way, not just with the athletes but in the minds of the general public."
"A lot of the girls playing now are playing year-round," said Kamehameha coach Clay Cockett,. "You see the difference in skills in the ones who play a lot and the ones who don't."
Cockett sees the quality statewide. He has a starter from Kauai, one from the Big Island, another from Molokai. One Big Island player commuted weekly for Cockett's summer clinic.
"One thing we do need is to have more summer leagues," said Victorino. "Last year was minimized because of the liability factor. The OIA didn't want to sanction the leagues because of it."
Opportunities to play are increasing. Last year, Furtado took a Hawaii Select girls' team to Las Vegas for the junior nationals for the first time.
"What I admire about the girls is their willingness to learn and play hard," said Furtado.
"I've had opportunities to coach boys but I don't," said Victorino. "Boys think they know it all already. The young ladies just want to learn. They want to get better. They do what you ask them to do.
"They're not worried about going behind the back and looking for a dunk. They're looking to play basketball. They want to learn and that's the fun of it all."