‘Good to be back’: If only for a few nights, hoop dreams return for HPA, Kamehameha

  • Kamehameha's Jake Iwasaki maneuvers around Hawaii Preparatory during a game at home in Keaau on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Hawaii Prep's KJ Walker dribbles around Kamehameha's Dorian Roque-Kuamoo during a game in Keaau on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Hawaii Prep’s Bear Wawner works inside against Kamehameha on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, during Ka Makani’s 54-40 victory at Koaia Gym. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

KEAAU — It was supposed to be a BIIF basketball season of medal collecting for Kamehameha and Hawaii Prep, but the coronavirus pandemic deleted thoughts of a title repeat for the Division I Warriors and a three-peat for the Division II Ka Makani.

What we got instead, in the era of pandemic hoops, was a debut high school battle of champions on Tuesday night at Koaia Gym, where HPA took care of business and beat Kamehameha 54-40.

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HPA’s perimeter shooting looked sharp with nine 3-pointers, and a relentless transition attack, led by All-BIIF first-team guard KJ Walker, who scored 19 points, including three straight triples in the third quarter.

His brother, Tre Walker, nailed three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points, Justin Lina added 11 points and Bear Wawner had eight points for Ka Makani, who held a 34-12 lead after KJ Walker sank 1 of 2 free throws after three consecutive 3-pointers.

“It felt good to be back playing basketball,” KJ Walker said. “After we came out of the break, I was feeling it, and my teammates kept feeding me the ball.”

HPA has been practicing since the start of January but looked a little discombobulated with eight turnovers in the game’s first eight minutes. The team finished with 19 giveaways. The Warriors had 14 turnovers.

The Warriors made an impressive comeback after trailing by 21 points in the third quarter. The team took a hit with the graduation loss of All-BIIF first-teamer Izayah Chartrand-Penera but returns another in Kaupena Yasso for his senior year. Yasso scored 12 points, including three 3-pointers in the second half, after going scoreless over the first 16 minutes.

Kamehameha returns forward Darius Olloway, an honorable mention, who scored seven points. Logan Enos also had seven points and showed a smooth stroke from the free-throw line, going 3 of 3.

Pandemic hoops followed strict protocols. Everyone in the gym wore a mask. The players were seated 6 feet apart on the bench. Everyone was hand sanitized after coming to the bench.

“It was harder to breathe with the mask,” KJ Walker said. “But it was fun to run.”

The pandemic hoops season will be over in an eye blink. HPA hosts a Kona club team on Thursday. The two later rematch, and Kamehameha visits HPA in March. Two games for Kamehameha and four for HPA.

Bummer for the rest of the BIIF teams, like Kohala, the defending state champion, to sit on the sideline and wish and wonder what if?

In a normal year, would the Cowboys have had a good shot at winning their first BIIF crown since 2014? That was the year the emerging Ka Makani won their first state title. Funny how the two changed places last season.

Kohala returned eight players, including cousins Moses and Molonai Emeliano, both first-team picks and seniors. The 2022 edition will only have three players left over from the state title squad in O’shen Cazimero, a two-time player of the year, Koby Agbayani, and La’akea Kauka.

The 2022 Ka Makani will look vastly different too, with two returning seniors in Tre Walker and Wawner, son of coach Fred Wawner.

That’s the neat thing about BIIF hoops for local fans. Great players graduate, new players come in and grow and fill their shoes, and parents tell their friends at the water cooler, “We’re going to be BIIF champs this year.”

While Kohala looked like a strong favorite for the Division II title, the Division I field would have been wide open. And it would have jacked up fan interest, mainly because each contender lost a key senior piece, all first-team selections.

Kamehameha lost its star Chartrand-Penera, who was beyond brilliant in a BIIF semifinal win over Hilo last season. He scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds, and distributed four assists. The Vikings will miss Kaukahi Alameda, who went down shooting with 23 points.

Waiakea’s Kiai Apele is now playing hoops at UH-Hilo, but in his last run in the BIIF semifinals, he scored 15 points in a win over Konawaena. Aldrin Gadot was steady for the Wildcats with eight points, seven rebounds, and five assists.

The 2022 Waiakea Warriors will still have one solid big in 6-3 Joel Feliciano. Paul Isotani Jr. will be a junior, and Royden Tatific-Justo received playing time last season as a freshman guard.

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The 2022 Kamehameha Warriors will be pretty good with senior Olloway, who keeps getting better with more reps, and shifty guard Jake Iwasaki, Braedy Yamada, and Logan Watterson.

Meanwhile, the first basketball game in a year felt like an exhibition, which it technically is. There were no fans to cheer their teams. But there was cause for celebration with the players just glad to be back on the court.

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