By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
For Kealakehe head coach Sam Kekuaokalani, the basketball season will be similar to a science experiment — trying to find the right combination of players on his roster to get the desired reaction on the court.
“We don’t have a whole lot of standouts, but I think we have just what we need on the inside and outside to contend,” Kekuaokalani said. “Our challenge will be to mesh all the pieces together and find that chemistry.”
Kealakehe lost West first-team guard and four-year varsity player Deion Utrera to graduation. Now, the Waveriders rely on a roster that features as many sophomores as seniors.
“We expect to be competitive in every game and just like any team we have expectations to win the BIIF,” Kekuaokalani said. “Realistically though, we know we are young. Not only age-wise, but in the system. The guys are trying to find their niche and their place within the system.”
Keanu Tilfas and Kalani Lewi are the two returning starters from last year’s team and are expected to provide a good chunk of scoring. Tilfas and Lewi will be accompanied by fellow seniors Justin Freddy and Joey Schultz.
Sophomores Blaine Broberg and Arthur Freddy have made an impact in the preseason.
Broberg — who also played wide receiver on the Kealakehe football team — has proven he can compete in the paint, finishing on tough baskets and gathering crucial rebounds.
Arthur Freddy has not shown the typical timidness of an underclassman. The younger of the Freddys has not shied away from putting shots up and has shown to be a competent offensive weapon for the ‘Riders.
“I’ve been happy with the boys striving to execute what we preach and applying what we teach in practice,” Kekuaokalani said. “I’ve had to change the system a bit to adapt to our personnel and also the way the refs have been calling things is a lot tighter.”
After starting the preseason 3-0 with wins against Ka‘u, St. Joseph and Honokaa, the Waveriders went 1-11 the rest of the way. However, the struggle was not without gaining some vital experience, opportunities to execute in pressure situations and chances for the Kealakehe staff to tinker with the on-court experiment.
One of the most revealing games for the youthful Kealakehe squad was against Sage Hill (Calif.) at the World Youth Basketball Tournament.
The game featured multiple lead changes and momentum swings, coming down to the final minutes. Down three points with under 30 seconds left, the Waveriders had an opportunity to tie the game on a three-point play. Instead, an error on the inbound pass led to a turnover, an eventual 48-43 loss and a lesson learned.
“It has not been perfect, but we have been progressing,” Kekuaokalani said. “They know more about what they need to do, but it will be about doing it more often and making it second nature.”
Another variable for Kealakehe during preseason has been battling through a language barrier. The team has multiple Micronesian players on the roster and Kekuaokalani said — while they’re outstanding additions to the roster — getting on the same page has been tough.
“We are trying to sing the same song — use the same terminology,” he said.
The Waveriders open the season Tuesday at home against Honokaa.
Editor’s note: This was the final in a series of Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys basketball previews. The BIIF boys regular season starts tonight with five games scheduled.