By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Nick Fisher is hoping he isn’t a one-man scoring show, and that Pahoa’s plan to rely on defense compensates for a lack of depth and experience.
Last season, the Daggers were heavy favorites for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II basketball championship.
After all, they finished second at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament in 2011, and returned a loaded lineup with a full menu of weapons to make another serious run.
But Kohala brought a monkey wrench and upset Pahoa in the BIIF semifinals, ending the Daggers’ three-year state appearance streak, which included a championship in 2010. That’s when Fisher, then a freshman, scored a game-high 17 points in a 41-38 win over Kailua.
During a recent night practice at the Daggers Gym, Fisher, a grizzled senior, reflected on how fast time flies and the state of his new-look team, which includes only one returning starter: him.
“We’re really inexperienced, but I like this team more than last year’s team,” he said. “Everybody has their roles and they accept their roles. Now, we’re the underdog and everybody on our team has a chip on their shoulder.
“Everybody has something to prove. Everybody who comes out works hard. You see it with our 5 on 5. Nobody wants to lose. But we only have nine guys. We needed a coach for one team. This year’s team doesn’t have much talent from top to bottom, but everybody is equal.”
Jarrett Kamaka and Randan Napeahi, a pair of seniors, saw minutes last season, and so did Toby Saito, a sophomore, whose 3-point shooting will be counted on to open driving lanes, and soften zone defenses for Fisher.
“Whenever we need something extra, Randan can do it,” coach Marc Saito said. “If there’s two minutes left and we need a couple of stops or a rebound, Randan is undersized but he’ll come out with the play.
“Jarrett was always athletic. It’s his senior year and he wants to provide more for his team. He was working hard from the summer.”
Penciled in as the other starter is senior Joseph Lefiti, who plays volleyball, but decided to join the Daggers as a first-year player. He’ll provide rebounding, a job duty that draws appreciation from Saito.
“We’ll only go as far as defense takes us. We’re undersized but athletic,” the Pahoa coach said. “The guys are willing to work hard. They know defense will get us wins, into and through the playoffs.
“There are no excuses out of Joe. He’ll work on anything we want out of him. For a first-time player in organized ball, he makes adjustments. He’s smart and a hard worker and a natural leader. Everybody knows what Nick does and what he can do. He doesn’t need to say anything.”
Fisher is Pahoa’s main source of offense, getting dependable points with layups in transition or outracing defenders to the rim.
As long as foul trouble doesn’t anchor Fisher to the bench, the Daggers will feature a complimentary one-two scoring punch, with Saito going long distance.
“He’s a big factor,” Saito said. “If you tell him to go, he’ll do it. Nick’s a good scorer. He’s super quick and his first step, no one can stay with him.”
Opposing teams have played zone defenses against the Daggers, protecting the rim against Fisher’s layups and offering lower-percentage shots from the perimeter.
“Toby’s really important. Everybody in the state knows he can shoot,” Fisher said. “When he shoots from the outside, he spreads the floor and gives us more space. He can shoot deep, and he’s only a 10th grader. He’s still learning.
“I’m the only starter back. There’s a lot on my shoulders, but I want to get everybody confident. I don’t want to take the ball every time and score. I want to get my teammates’ confidence up. Last year was supposed to be our year. But we didn’t live up to expectations. Our goal is to get better every day.”
Fisher spent the summer in California, working on his agility and speed with his brother, who lives in Fresno. He also attended a five-star camp in Pittsburgh and earned a defensive player award, something to hang his hat on.
It’s another role for him as a defensive stopper. He’s finding satisfaction in stopping someone from scoring.
“My mindset is to play defense and that award means a lot to me,” Fisher said. “I played against three guys who were ranked in ESPN’s Top 100. At the next level, you’ve got to play on both sides of the ball.
“I’m more aggressive on the ball. Before I didn’t want to get crossed over or blown by. But everybody gets crossed up there. You have to play defense and have the mindset that you’re not going to let them get past you or score. Now, I want to guard the other team’s best guy.”
Over the summer, the Daggers lost to Ka‘u, Kohala and Honokaa. When preseason finally rolled around, Fisher pointed out Pahoa beat Honokaa and Waiakea at the Dragons tourney, and defeated Kealakehe at the Konawaena tournament.
It was the type of progress Fisher talked about. Nothing that shook the twitter accounts of basketball followers, just a steady climb of improvement.
It was dark at the Daggers Gym after practice was long over. The coqui frogs were quiet. Fisher had a good workout and picked out the optimism in the air.
“I like being under the radar,” he said. “It’s like my freshman year when nobody talked about us. Once the season started we were making noise.”