Propelled By Good Defense, Mustangs Head To OIA Tourney

Wednesday - February 01, 2012
By Jack Danilewicz
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The so-called off-season came and went without Josh Ko noticing. The Kalaheo senior and team leader was seldom without a basketball in his hand during that time. His sights were set on a February to remember.

“All summer long it was a grind in the heat to practice,” recalled Ko. “When it comes to the season, it’s been real rewarding to have the year we’re having. It’s one of my best memories so far.”

Best of all for Ko and the team is that their lofty goals are still in front of them and likely within reach. They begin play in the OIA Division II tournament this week after closing out their regular season last weekend. Few teams enter post-season on more of a roll than Kalaheo, which had won 11 of its last 12 games. The only loss was to Division I Kahuku, whom Kalaheo beat at the Merv Lopes Tournament in late December. Neither team will play the other during the next three post-season weeks, since they’re in different divisions.

Kalaheo last won a state boys basketball title in 2001 under the late Pete Smith (and assistant Chico Furtado, who would succeed him), but it should be among the favorites in the Division II tournament later in the month. While Ko and his teammates were young in 2001, they know the history. “Although I never met Coach Pete Smith, he set the tone for our program,” said Ko, the team’s leading scorer at 11.6 points per game.

“Coach Alika is going to accomplish a lot in years to come, too. It’s reassuring to know Coach (Alika) played here. He gives me tips from his high school playing days, and it’s helped me a lot.”

The Kalaheo lineup also centers around fellow starters Derick Morgan (7.2 ppg), Nainoa Frank (9.1 ppg), Shem Sukumaran, Jordan Reindollar and sixth-man Silila Tucker. The group helped Kalaheo develop into one of the best defensive teams in the state, having held eight OIA opponents to under 40 points.

“Derick and Shem are our defensive specialists,” Ko said, sizing up the group. “They usually take (defend) the one and two guards from the other team. They’re both lockdown defenders, and they’re offensive-minded, too.

“Nainoa has been a big key for us,” he added. “He’s the big man we never had last year. He’s like a wall to try to get around. He gets rebounds, and he blocks shots at key moments. Jordan can jump through the roof, and, offensively, he’s a good guy to have in the post.”

The top two finishers at the OIA Division II tournament earn berths for the DII state tournament Feb. 22-25, so the first step for the Mustangs is to win their OIA playoff opener this week. (Pairings and game details were to be finalized after press time.)

“Basically we have to focus in each practice and win games step-by-step,” Ko said. “We’re peaking at the right time, and Coach is making sure of it. Team chemistry has been the most important thing. We’re close off and on the court.”

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