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BIIF basketball preview: Kohala ready to to return to running ways

By KEVIN JAKAHI

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Tradition has always carried Kohala like a racehorse on the basketball court, where defenders would have difficulty corralling streaking Cowboys headed for an easy layup.

It was not necessarily an uptempo playing style that defined the Cowboys but rather a simple mindset.

“It’s playing hard as you can every night,” coach Don Fernandez said. “That’s Kohala’s tradition. You should be playing hard for each other and to represent Kohala and the community the best way that you can. No matter what it says on the scoreboard, you have to play hard.”

Kohala has the opportunity to empty its gas tank to its coach’s liking at the St. Joseph Cardinal Classic, which runs Thursday-Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, where a three-game experiment awaits.

On Thursday, the Cowboys will defend Waiakea’s ball-sharing precision, then St. Joe’s 3-point shooting the next day and finally Hilo’s press and traps in the last round.

A week ago, the Cowboys faced a team that featured those similar traits: themselves. Well, not exactly their clones but a team that plays like how Kohala used to play when it was winning BIIF Division II titles (2007-09 and ’14).

At the Waiakea-Keaau Invitational tournament, Kaiser defeated Kohala 59-17. It wasn’t the margin of victory that stood out. Rather it was the way the Cougars won: relentless ball pressure, running the floor before the half-court defense could set up and sharing the ball when a teammate had a better shot.

The Cougars are coached by 2002 Waiakea standout Branden Kawazoe, whose team plays the same way he did as a Warrior and Pacific Boxer guard.

It was like watching an old highlight reel for Fernandez, who was dismayed that his Cowboys walked the ball up the court, sort of a foreign concept for the old Cowboys.

Junior guard Isaiah Salvador grew up following those great Kohala teams. His favorite was the 2015 edition that fell to old friend Kaiser 50-47 in the HHSAA semifinals.

“That team had heart,” he said. “We’re young and learning how to work as a team. We don’t play year-round ball like other players. We have to work harder. Kohala is all about defense. Coach always says we have to use our defense to get easy buckets.”

There are only three seniors — forward Ian Rivera, center Kahoalii Lewis, and guard Maui Hook — on the 11-man roster.

Salvador, junior John Nicolas and sophomore Elijah Antonio are the starting guards, and Rivera is at forward and junior Kyrell Mateo at center.

Against the faster and taller Cougars, Salvador scored a team-high 10 points. He used his lanky 5-foot-11 frame to squeeze between Kaiser’s trees and worked from mid-range in to put up shots.

The Cowboys don’t have the pure team speed of past teams, but there’s still a tradition in place.

“Isaiah hustles and plays hard,” Fernandez said. “Defensively, he’s trying for steals, and he’s always trying to make something happen.”

Kohala’s goal is to reach the four-team BIIF playoffs. Last season, the Cowboys fell to Hawaii Prep in the BIIF semifinals 60-44; they trailed 29-25 at halftime.

Fernandez still feels the sting of that postseason loss.

“Last season, HPA gave us good lickings,” he said. “We want to sneak into the playoffs and with one game (to earn a state berth) you never know what will happen.”

That 2015 season, the last state trip, was a significant one for Kohala, which was the BIIF runner-up and made a strong run: a 76-51 win over Seabury Hall in the quarterfinals, a loss to Kaiser in the semis and a 69-48 win over Hawaii Baptist Academy for third.

And Fernandez was right: you never know what will happen when a team plays as hard as it can because Kohala’s clone, Kaiser, won the state title that year.

Cardinal classic

Hilo Civic

Thursday

Honokaa vs. St. Joseph JV, 2 p.m.

Kohala vs. Waiakea, 3:30 p.m.

Kailua vs. Honokaa, 5 p.m.

Maryknoll vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 6:30 p.m.

Hilo vs. St. Joseph, 8 p.m.

Friday

Honokaa vs. Kailua JV, 11:30 a.m.

St. Joseph vs. Kohala JV, 2 p.m.

St. Joseph vs. Kohala, 3:30 p.m.

Waiakea vs. Kamehameha, 5 p.m.

Hilo vs. Kailua, 6:30 p.m.

Honokaa vs. Maryknoll, 8 p.m.

Saturday

Kailua vs. St. Joseph JV, 9 a.m.

Hilo vs. Kohala, 10:30 a.m.

Waiakea vs. Maryknoll, noon

St. Joseph vs. Honokaa, 1:30 p.m.

Kamehameha vs. Kailua, 3 p.m.

Maryknoll vs. Hilo, 4:30 p.m.

Honokaa vs. Waiakea, 6 p.m.

Kailua vs. St. Joseph, 7:30 p.m.

 

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