By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When perpetual underdogs experience a significant moment, those memories can last a lifetime — something small school Ka‘u knows quite well.
It was just a preseason game, but the Trojans showed some serious basketball chops and determination, upsetting Kohala 67-59 in double-overtime in the Keaau-Waiakea Classic on Friday.
The Cowboys are annual Big Island Interscholastic Federation title contenders. They won three straight league Division II championships from 2007 to ’09. Last season, they finished as the BIIF runner-up.
The Trojans have never been to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament for either the boys or girls. Since statewide classification started in 2007, the Ka‘u boys have not made it past the first round in the BIIF playoffs.
Last season, Kohala ran around the block twice on Ka‘u 42-21 in the first round. But the silver lining was Greg Javar and Royden Esperon stepped up, scoring nine and seven points, respectively, for the Trojans, who finished with a 2-11 record.
It’s not every day an underdog like Ka‘u lands one on the chin against a tough bunch like Kohala. Seniors Esperon and Javar led the way with 17 and 15 points, respectively. If anything, the upset serves as a reminder that anything can happen.
“A lot of guys have played on the junior varsity together, and have been playing a long time together from P&R leagues,” said Javar, a two-year starter. “That gives us experience and helps each other out to play together. We know each other’s strength.”
Javar, Jansen Candaroma, Donald Garo Jr., Honua Kauhi, Lehre Vidal and Brian Gascon grew up together playing Parks and Recreation ball in Pahala. As Trojan teammates, they want to emulate the Ka‘u volleyball girls and make school history in their own way.
The volleyball team won the school’s first BIIF title. The basketball team wants to reach states. Defending champion Hawaii Prep, Kohala and Pahoa, all blessed with state experience, will pose as significant roadblocks.
“Our goal is to go to states,” Candaroma said. “We have to work together and play as a team.”
Javar saw what the volleyball team accomplished by playing together. That not only brought a BIIF title home, but also a healthy dose of school pride. He’s hoping for the same feeling.
“That gives us more motivation. If they can do it, we can do it, too, and it’s not out of reach,” he said. “The motivation is not only making history with states, but also representing our small town, and putting Ka‘u on the map.
“We’re definitely underdogs. Ka‘u is a small community. The games in our gym feel like it’s one giant family.”
In small towns like Pahala, a pebble thrown into the water creates a ripple that reaches everyone. It’s something on Ka‘u coach Ravel Kaupu’s agenda. He expects his players to do more than block out and hustle back on defense.
“I want the team to play hard with respect,” he said. “I want them to learn life skills and become better people in the future. I just want them to live life the right way.”
Javar has a 3.5 grade-point average. He’d like to study architecture or engineering in college. He’s always found an interest in designing or building things.
Then he talked about something significant that will likely last a lifetime.
“What I like about coach is he teaches us more than just basketball. It’s about life and stuff and that’s the main thing,” Javar said. “In order to play basketball, you need grades, and you need that to go far in life. He talks about staying in the game and making right choices. That’s about life, too.”