By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Dominic Pacheco is a big believer in the process. It’s something he’s lived and breathed with the Kamehameha boys basketball program since the beginning.
Pacheco was an assistant to Nelson Wong when the Warriors started with a junior varsity team in 2003. A year later, Big Island Interscholastic Federation teams took their shots when Kamehameha went varsity.
“We threw them to the wolves,” Pacheco said. “Those guys got beat up, ended up losing by 50 points sometimes.”
But, through a process of development, the program grew and churned out back-to-back BIIF Division I championship teams in 2006 and 2007.
Pacheco took over the varsity two years later, and after a few down seasons, Kamehameha molded units that struck again for consecutive league crowns. The program peaked under Pacheco last year when a veteran team took third at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, which could have been even higher if not for injury and illness.
The 2013 Warriors certainly aren’t starting over, nor do they have that far to go — especially with Shaun Kagawa in the fold — but Pacheco’s ready to start a new process.
“We lost a great group last year,” he said. “We knew it was going to take time to get this group, surrounding around Shaun, to develop.
“So far, I like the process. It’s been a little bit up and down, but lately we’ve seen a lot of ups in our progress. I’m satisfied coming out of (the preseason). I just hope the momentum carries on throughout the season.”
If you had to pick one player to build a team around, the ultra-athletic Kagawa, a 5-foot-11 senior, certainly would be one of the best options in Hawaii. After teaming up with Lanaki Apele to form one of the state’s best backcourts last season, Kagawa, the reigning BIIF East Player of the Year, takes over the point guard duties.
Pacheco points to a preseason game against Punahou on Oahu to illustrate Kagawa’s importance. The Buffanblu tried to press in the first half, but Kagawa and the Warriors broke it handily and got easy baskets to lead at halftime. Only when Punahou changed its philosophy in the second half did it end up pulling away late.
“I couldn’t understand why they were pressing us,” Pacheco said. “I welcome teams to press us.”
While Kagawa is the only returning starter, juniors Laa Manliguis, Rylan Kiko and Micah Carter got playing time last season.
In the case of Manliguis and Kiko, perhaps a painful memory from last season could pay dividends this year.
Kamehameha was preparing for its state semifinal game against Kahuku when it was hit by a nasty stomach virus that infected seven people, including Pacheco and three starters. Thrust into the starting lineup, Manliguis and Kiko held their own as the Warriors led at halftime but ultimately couldn’t overcome a season-ending elbow injury to Apele.
“They came in and did not hurt our ballclub at all,” Pacheco said. “They did a wonderful job of handling the pressure of the Final Four.”
Heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. opener at home against St. Joseph, the fifth-year coach feels comfortable going eight to nine deep.
Manliguis, 6-1, is a dangerous 3-point shooter and will share some of the ball-handling duties, as will his brother, 5-7 freshman Bayley-Allen Manliguis. Ilikai Calip, a 6-1 senior who transferred back from Keaau, brings a shooting dimension on the perimeter, and the 6-foot Carter also can spread teams out.
Kiko, a 6-0 junior, will play in the post and be backed up by Ina Teofilo, a 6-1 junior forward, while Pacheco lauded the progress made by 6-3 junior Nolan Kua.
In addition to the younger Manliguis, another promising freshman is Pukana Vincent, a 5-11 forward.
Still, the coach admits that one player stands out when the Warriors are on the floor: Kawaga, who has been told by the University of Hawaii that he can come play football and basketball, according to Pacheco.
“Our philosophy is we like to share the ball, play together and give everybody the opportunity to score,” he said. “But you can see the difference if you watch the game. Shaun’s skill level is above by a lot.
“He can get to the rack, he’s going to attract attention, but he has to trust his teammates. They’re going to be open and he’s got to trust the boys. At times he might have to step up and take over when we’re not getting any flow.”
That amount of teaching that Pacheco and his staff are doing takes him back to his days when he first started with the JV team back in 2003. Now, after a few years as being the hunted, he happily points to Konawaena, which beat the Warriors handily in the preseason, Hilo and Waiakea as the favorites.
“There’s no pressure; everybody’s talking about other teams,” he said. “It ain’t going to happen overnight from where we were at the end of last year. It’s going to be a long road.”
In other words, it’s a process.