By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Konawaena High School coach Don Awa knows his talented boys basketball team has the potential to battle for a league championship. Now, only time will tell how far the Wildcats go this year.
“Our goal is to win the BIIF championship and go to the state tournament,” Awa said. “I think we have the pieces to do it this year. It’s a matter of staying disciplined enough every game in our execution and building on our consistency.
“The strength of our team is our balance and I think we can match up with anybody in the state. We have a strong eight-man rotation and just need to play more together to gain that consistency.”
The Wildcats start seniors Kenan Gaspar, Brenton Shropshire and Trevor Tanaka and juniors Brandon Awa and Jonah Bredeson. Senior Nick Mims and juniors Pookela Hanato-Smith and Chase Takaki round out the rotation.
Also looking to contribute for the Wildcats this season are seniors Winchester Aquino (5-8 guard), Nenet Maddison (5-9 forward) and Troy Casas-Wooten (5-10 forward).
“I’m not sticking with just one lineup, anyone of the guys can start depending on the situation,” Donny Awa said.
The Konawaena coach describes the 6-foot Gaspar and 6-foot Bredeson as potent scorers; the 6-8 Shropshire as an inside post presence who can score; and 5-11 Brandon Awa, the coach’s son, and 5-9 Tanaka as rock-solid ballhandlers.
The 6-1 Mims is an athletic forward; Hanato-Smith, a good perimeter shooter; and Takaki, a hustling guard.
“Everybody has their own strength and role that can help our team,” Donny Awa said. “Kenan and Jonah can score and we’ll look to them for that. Brenton gives us a big guy inside and Brandon is a good point guard who can handle pressure.
“But as a team, we need to be more disciplined in running the offense and out in transition. Defensively, we’re pretty solid but we have been too aggressive at times during the preseason. When we do that and look for the steals, it can hurt our defensive help and then we can get into trouble. Overall, we just need to be more solid all the way around.”
Awa said the Wildcats played well during the preseason, although they did stub their toe on occasion.
“We won three games in the Waiakea/Keaau tournament, then lost to Kalaheo in the final,” the Konawaena coach said. “But we learned so much more in that loss to Kalaheo than we did in those three wins. Kalaheo was playing in midseason form and they shot the ball really well against us.
“That loss made us look at some of our weaknesses and allowed us to focus on getting better.”
Awa said the Wildcats then stumbled in their opener in the Punahou tournament — “Everybody had an off day, but we came back to play much better as the tournament went along.”
That ability to take a punch in the stomach and come back stronger in their next game impressed the veteran Konawaena coach, especially heading into the rugged Big Island Interscholastic Federation season.
“I know we haven’t played our best basketball yet,” Awa said. “I know we can play better and hopefully we’re going to be able to do it when we need to do it.”
Konawaena hasn’t won a BIIF boys basketball title since the 2007-08 season when Kamehameha, under coach Nelson Wong, finished runner-up. At states, the Wildcats lost to eventual champion Punahou in the semifinals while the Warriors advanced all the way to the title game and lost a close contest to the Buffanblu.
This year, Awa sees a wide-open state tournament with a number of teams capable of winning.
“There is no powerhouse in the state this year,” he said. “The ILH has four quality teams and only two will get in. The OIA has some solid teams. And hopefully we can make it there and try to make a run.”
Awa points to Hilo as the Wildcats’ strongest challenger this season for the BIIF crown.
“Hilo has a good team and their defensive pressure will bother a lot of teams,” the Wildcats coach said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to handle that pressure and fulfill our potential. But there are some other BIIF teams out there that can beat the top teams if they don’t come with their A game.
“For us, we just want to become more consistent in what we do and play the best basketball we can. If we do that, things will take care of themselves.”