Red Raiders’ Strong Bench Helping Win Basketball Games
By Jack Danilewicz
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The competitive atmosphere of boys basketball practice never wavers at Kahuku. It is one reason the Red Raiders have remained a step ahead of the competition to date, as there is little drop-off in their talent level when head coach Darren Johnson goes to his bench or deep into the rotation.
“Our bench has been great, and they have to be vital as we move forward with the things we would like to do offensively and defensively. In practice, those also are the guys giving us a good look (at an opponent’s tendencies). It’s a battle every day in practice. The kids are used to competing, and they want playing time.”
As the team begins the OIA Red tournament this week it hosts an opponent to be determined at 7 p.m. Thursday its bench could figure even bigger. In recent games, Kahuku has turned to Benny Fonua, Lasselle Thompson, Danny Aki, Koiva Tufaga and Bronson Beatty to keep the energy level up when the starters are catching a breather.
Most would likely be starters in other programs. Johnson’s starting lineup currently includes Evan Ramirez, Kawe Johnson, Mekeli Fiso, Mason Kuali’i-Moe and Sam Ching, while Reed Salanoa, Devailo Galeai, Jayven Mohetau, Matai Paselio and Quayd Ah You round out the team.
Regardless of their on-the-floor lineup, the Red Raiders have met every challenge in the OIA, having won 10 straight games heading into their finale with Roosevelt over the weekend. Kahuku’s last loss came in the preseason tournament Dec. 30 to Kalaheo, which is poised to make a run of its own in Division II (see accompanying story).
Even so, Johnson and the Red Raiders are taking nothing for granted as they begin the postseason this week. “Hopefully what we’ve done in the regular season will carry over. We have a mature group that understands that we have to take it one game at a time.”
Among Johnson’s yearly challenges is getting a late start because of the state football playoffs. Fourteen of Kahuku’s 16player basketball team were part of the school’s state football title run in the fall.
With that in mind, he is hoping the team will hit its stride when it counts the most which is over the next two weeks. Asked if Kahuku is playing its best basketball of the season, Johnson said, “Not even close.
“We’re hoping that is a good thing and we’ll peak at the right time. I think they play hard. We’ve increased the intensity level in practice.”
Cohesiveness also has paid big dividends, especially on the road where Kahuku went 6-0 in the OIA. “Tight-knit teams go farther (at tournament time),” Johnson explained. “Overall, not just on the court, the kids are close. It (successful play in the state) comes down to which team is gelling better and playing as a team.”
The OIA’s double-elimination format will make the event a two-week affair. The top five finishers in the OIA earn the league’s berths for the Division I state tournament, which runs Feb. 2225.
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