By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Before Honokaa hit the court this season, it took to the streets.
The Dragons delayed practice one day to play man-to-man with their community. First-year coach Jayme Carvalho and his team, cheerleaders in tow, reached out to small businesses, handing out schedules and player descriptions to raise awareness.
“We have to build a foundation first, and it starts with the relationship with the community,” Carvalho said. “We’re only as good as the community. We want to create a buzz and bring the enthusiasm back.”
Carvalho is a walking history book when it comes to Honokaa boys basketball, and the latest chapters have been rather pedestrian. According to Carvalho, a 1993 Honokaa graduate, the school hasn’t enjoyed a winning Big Island Interscholastic Federation season since 2008.
“To be good now, you’ve got to know who was good before you,” he said.
He remembers the days when fans used to start lining up in the late afternoon at Honokaa Armory to make sure they got a good seat to watch players such as Shane Bell, Carvalho’s childhood idol in the late 1980s.
“We used to call it the Pit and it was one of the hardest places on the island to play,” Carvalho said. “They didn’t come because they had a cousin on the team; they came because it was Honokaa.”
Back then, the motto was “Get It Done,” a theme that Carvalho has reinstalled. He’s also bringing back the fast-paced game from his college days.
After playing with the Dragons, Carvalho walked on at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and played for coach Bob Wilson’s “seven-second offense.” If the Vulcans scored 100 points one season, fans got half off a meal. Carvalho hasn’t forgotten, ditching the deliberate offense former mentor Cheyenne Meyer recently employed at Honokaa in favor of an uptempo, frenetic style.
Featuring doses of full-court man defense, Carvalho’s theory is that mistakes can be overcome with hustle.
“We want to cause turnovers and get easy buckets,” said senior guard Cjay Carvalho, the coach’s son. “We want to get as many shots and as many turnovers as possible. We want to get to the line. We want to do everything fast.”
Among the roadblocks for Honokaa this season is inexperience. The multi-dimensional Carvalho along with seniors Wayne Vaoga and Nathan Gascon are the only players on the roster with varsity seasoning.
In many aspects, the Dragons figure to go as far as the younger Carvalho takes them. He also plays volleyball and runs cross country, and when he’s not participating in athletics he’s a saxophonist in the school’s renowned jazz band. On the basketball court, he’ll be called upon to do a little of everything this season.
“I feel pressure, but I want that pressure,” said Carvalho, who’s entering his fourth year on the varsity. “I want to be the leader. If the team fails, it’s on my hands. I had to wait my turn. But since it’s my senior year I get that chance.”
Another key piece is Vaoga, a 5-foot-11 football player who provides a physical presence on the inside and can rebound and bang with the best of them in the BIIF.
“Every time in the preseason he had a double-double we won,” Jayme Carvalho said. “When our inside guys are active it opens stuff for the outside guys.”
Gascon will play some inside at forward, but he’s also has been working on improving his jumper. Junior Shyrome Batin brings much-needed length at small forward and has the potential to evolve into a scorer.
“A left-hander who is long, can slash, attack the basket, sets up others and shoot the 3,” Cjay Carvalho said.
Junior Wesley Slaboro is projected as the team’s point guard, though Carvalho will run the team at times. Joshua Marlin, Jayvie Rivera and Makana Ibanez are seniors who are in their first seasons but will see playing time.
“We need everybody to come to play, to think of not themselves but each other and to have balanced scoring,” Jayme Carvalho said after the Dragons finished fourth at St. Joseph’s preseason tournament. “If we get that, we’ll be OK.”
In other words, it will take a community effort.
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a series of BIIF boys basketball previews.
Next: Pahoa, Friday