By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
After missing last season with a knee injury, Kehaulani Lee is itching to make a difference for the Kealakehe girls basketball team, which could use someone who provides a constant emotional charge.
On the last day of the Waiakea Invitational preseason tournament, the host Warriors applied a defensive visegrip and thumped the Waveriders 62-10, showing a sizable disparity between the two Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I teams.
“We have to learn how to work as a team,” Lee said. “Defensively, we have to stick to our man and talk to each other. Communication is a big thing.
“We have really good chemistry and have bonded like a family. From the start, there’s been no drama and that’s good for girls. I like talking to the team and making them feel calm and comfortable, especially the new girls.”
The 5-foot-8 forward is one four senior starters. The others are Tiani Terazono, Teria Kekuaokalani and Taylor Mitchell. Kaleanani Anakalea-Haleamau, a junior, is the other starter for a West Hawaii team playing in Konawaena’s large shadow.
The husband and wife team of Danny and Lynelle Kamakau are back coaching the Waveriders for the second straight season. In 2003, Kealakehe reached the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament for the first and only time under the Kamakau coaching tandem.
Over on the boys side, Danny Kamakau coached Kealakehe to its first state appearance in 2002. The ’Riders captured the BIIF championship in 2004. Then he stopped coaching four years later.
He missed molding youngsters while incorporating life lessons into his basketball routine. He’s got a deep roster with 18 players. Kamakau has a suitable candidate in Lee, who carries a 3.2 grade-point average.
She is already on track with her future. Lee fell in love with Pacific (Ore.) University when the school visited the campus for a recruiting trip. She plans to major in psychology and help children some day.
“She’s a team leader and works hard. She’s a smart player. She just needs to be pushed in the right direction,” Kamakau said. “Last season we missed her a whole bunch. We definitely missed her leadership. She just has a presence on the floor and gives the girls confidence in what they have to do.
“I missed the camaraderie with a team and teaching and sharing knowledge. Sports and life have a relationship and they go hand in hand. It’s about striving and doing the best that you possibly can, and never giving up, no matter what the adversity.”
The Waveriders have a deep pool of available bodies — roughly 1,500 students or more than double Konawaena. But the Wildcats carry the basketball torch in West Hawaii. They’ve gone to states 11 straight times, winning five championships during that span.
Kamakau believes the busy winter season gives girls at Kealakehe a lot of options, especially soccer with its youth programs. No surprise, the Waveriders are establishing a foothold in soccer; they won the BIIF title last season and were runner-up the previous year.
“We as coaches are willing to take anybody,” he said. “We’re always happy to take anyone who comes out for basketball. The objective is to get the youth involved in some kind of organized sport because you know you have to be academically eligible to play. We help them with that.”
Asked about chasing a first BIIF title for the girls, Kamakau offered a hand-in-hand answer.
“If we strive and continue to improve and get better that’s more important,” he said. “The team has mental toughness. They persevere and definitely show a lot of dedication. They’ve got things that can’t be taught. We’ve just got to bring it out of them.”
Kamakau couldn’t pinpoint when he first stepped down from coaching. The dates of the state appearances for both teams draw even less attention. It’s not victories that make the best memory for him, rather it’s making a difference.
One of his former players was Josh Deleon, a 2008 Kealakehe graduate. He’s set to graduate this month from the University of Missouri and will pursue his master’s degree. Kamakau was sent a commencement invitation.
“That’s a great feeling that you helped influence someone,” he said. “That’s why I came back, to have that opportunity to influence youngsters. That’s such a great feeling.”
That midday Saturday was growing late. The Kamakau family had to get going, heading out for a two-hour drive home to drop off the girls for winter prom. Their work wasn’t finished there.
They would pick up the Kealakehe junior varsity boys basketball team and drive back to Hilo to play in Kamehameha’s JV preseason tourney. It would make for a long day, but made better with Kamakau’s recounting of Deleon.