By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hilo senior forward Jalen Carvalho calls himself a natural right-hander. He eats with his right hand, but shoots pretty jump shots with his left hand, and makes the game of basketball — when he gets on a hot streak — vividly entertaining.
When he switches to baseball, his other sport, Carvalho takes the mound as a right-handed pitcher. But when he jumps into the batter’s box, he’s a left-handed hitter.
He doesn’t play soccer, but he would kick the ball with his right foot.
“I throw with my right arm. My left arm would feel awkward,” he said. “On the court, if I shot right-handed that would feel awkward as well. I can’t eat left-handed because it would feel super weird.
“In the beginning when I was 5 or 6 years old, I shot with two hands. I was getting more comfortable with my left. That’s how it started. Batting left-handed feels natural, too. It’s kind of good in a way, not using the same arm over and over. It’s unusual and weird for me, but it works.”
At the St. Joseph Cardinal Classic, he showed his natural scoring ability with a 47-point performance as Hilo defeated Waiakea 67-64 in the championship. The 6-foot-3 Carvalho hit two buzzer-beaters, including the game-winner at the end of overtime, and sank 21 of 24 free throws.
Another unusual thing about Carvalho is his skill-set. Most players in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation who are 6-foot-3 are relegated to the paint.
Carvalho not only has a 3-point shot, but he’s developed a pull-up jumper and a post game when challenged by a smaller defender.
Most of his free-throw attempts came on drives to the basket, giving him the option to attack from any area on the floor. That versatility will be quite useful when opponents double team or throw a box-and-one defense against him.
“I look forward to scoring and it’s also a challenge,” he said. “I want to be one of the best players, and the only way to be one of the best is to beat the best and play my best.”
He also got into the best shape of his life. At the beginning of the year, he weighed 165 pounds. He’s up to 180 pounds, solid muscle from weight lifting and drinking protein shakes.
During the summer, Carvalho went to the Maui Sports Academy camp held on Oahu. He’s got a couple of junior college scholarship offers on the table.
But he could get a delayed Christmas present. The Vikings will play in the Under Armour Holiday Classic at Torrey Pines in San Diego, a major showcase that also attracts college scouts. The team leaves today.
“Our goal is to win BIIFs. I know we’re the underdog,” Carvalho said. “It really helped us big-time when we beat Waiakea. That win gets us higher. We have to keep learning and working hard.”
Austin “Audie” Dante, a 5-11 senior guard, is the only other returning starter. Sophomore EJ Narido will start at point guard, Sione Atuekaho at center, with Isaac Kaleiwahea and Jordan Caoagdan sharing minutes at forward.
“It’s a great group. They listen to the coaches, and I think that’s what got us through the game (against Waiakea). Waiakea’s a great team. We were lucky to get that one,” Hilo coach Chuck Vallero said. “Jalen is a complete player. We’re trying to get our offense to complement him. We need to get the four guys involved and not having them stand around. We’ve got very unselfish players, the kind of guys you want to play with on the floor.”
It helps that Dante and Carvalho are good friends. Each is willing to share the ball, especially on runs to the basket in transition.
“Austin brings his game and he plays really aggressive,” Vallero said. “He and Jalen work well together. They’re a couple of kids who grew up together and look to each other, and feed off each other.
“Austin’s very unselfish, too. He can drive the basket, hit a little pull-up jumper that’s at his disposal. He can handle the ball and get up the floor in transition and really sees the court, as well as Jalen.”
Hilo’s interior doesn’t feature much size. Kaleiwahea is a 5-9 senior, Caoagdan a 5-8 junior and Atuekaho a 6-0 junior.
But determination goes a long way. That’s what Vallero likes about his post players.
“Jordan plays good defense. He hustles up and down the floor,” Vallero said. “I’m amazed how hard Isaac plays. He’s learning post-up moves. We’re working on it every day. He’s come a long way, and he does a really good job at boxing out.
“We need to get a season under Sione’s belt. I see huge potential in him. In every way, he’s kind of raw right now. But he’s a great, nice kid, who’s willing to learn. He’s very coachable and a kid we can build around.”
Last season’s Hilo ballclub that fell to Kamehameha in the BIIF semifinals 65-59 was probably the most talented since the 2010 edition that won the league championship. That squad was bolstered with the transfer of two Waiakea players, 6-4 Dakota Allen and 5-10 Mitchell Shintani.
Two potential senior starters didn’t return. Jodd Carter, an athletic sharpshooter, is only going to play baseball for the Vikings, after receiving a scholarship from Hawaii. Drew Kell, a top scorer and rebounder, moved to Oregon.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces. EJ is our point guard and he’s doing good,” Carvalho said. “Me and Audie are trying to be leaders and get everyone to step up their game. We’re going to need it. We’re coming along. We need time gel more.
“I think our strength will be that we’re more disciplined. We’ll have an offensive ability to score the rock. Audie and I and EJ can score. Sione has been a big help. We have all the pieces that we need. We’ve got to step up our game a little more to be a complete team this season.”
Even after taking down Waiakea, the first-year coach of the new-look Vikings didn’t endorse his guys as the team to beat. He’s taking the subtle approach.
“We’re taking it game by game,” Vallero said. “I know Waiakea is the favorite and Kona is No. 2. We’re there and Kamehameha is there. I think we’ll be a different team by the time we get into league play.
“We’re trying to improve every day. Whatever happens at the end happens. A lot of teams peak, some not at the right time. This team will continue to improve and peak at the right time.”
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a series of BIIF boys basketball previews.
Next up: Honokaa, Thursday.