By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Kamehameha’s Blaine-Allen “La’akea” Manliguis carries the last name that is synonymous with basketball success on the Big Island.
And after two years of playing a key support role to then Warriors’ standouts Lanaki Apele and Shaun Kagawa, the 6-foot-1 senior is ready to make the most as Kamehameha’s go-to man this season and continue the rich Manliguis tradition.
Manliguis is one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation and will be counted on to score points and spark a fast-paced attack. But he’s also versatile enough to play any position on the floor and he’s a vital part in Kamehameha’s pressure defense.
“La’a creates a lot of mismatches because he go inside or out,” Kamehameha head coach Dominic Pacheco said. “We’re fortunate to have players like La’a and Micah Carter, they’re both seniors and can help our young team in many ways.”
Last year, the young Warriors rode the outstanding play of Kagawa, a two-sport star who redshirted for the football team at Army this year. The previous season, led by Apele and Kagawa, Kamehameha reached the semifinals of the state Division I tournament before Apele got hurt and the Warriors were knocked out of the winners’ bracket. Apele is currently a sophomore point guard at NCAA Division III Cal Lutheran, near Los Angeles.
Kamehameha finished runner-up behind BIIF Division I champion Konawaena last year and played in the state tournament. This season, Pacheco is hoping Manliguis and his fellow seniors can lead the Warriors to the BIIF D-I title and another state-tournament berth. But there’s no clear-cut favorite this year in what should be a competitive BIIF season with Waiakea, Konawaena, Hilo and Kamehameha all in the running for a state berth, while Kealakehe and Keaau look to surprise those teams and grab one of the league’s two coveted state spots.
“It’s going to be an interesting D-I race,” Pacheco said. “Waiakea has a lot of talent, just like last year, and Kona is right there. They’re probably going to battle for the top spot. But I don’t think you can count Hilo out with their new coach or even our team. It’s also going to be interesting in traveling islandwide this year to play everybody. It’s not easy taking a three-hour bus ride and having to play a tough game. But it’s something the good teams will have to overcome.”
La’akea is the son of Calvin Manliguis Jr., who was a standout player during his prep career at Hilo High, and the grandson of Calvin Manliguis Sr., a star for the Vikings in the 1960s under his older brother Al, a longtime Vikings coach. Like brothers Al and the late Larry Manliguis, Calvin Sr. has been a successful assistant coach and head coach in the BIIF over the years though he’s no longer on the high school sidelines.
Kamehameha’s current go-to player grew up around basketball and he plays with a coach’s IQ. He also makes his teammates better by getting them the ball when they can use it or helping on defense when they run into trouble.
While Manliguis is the Warriors’ go-to-guy in the clutch, Pacheco will count on all of his seniors — Manliguis, Carter, Faaolaina Teofilo and Rylan Kiko — to make a difference.
“We’re still looking for a leader,” Pacheco said. “It doesn’t have to be a senior, but we’d like to see someone step up. In the preseason, we started three sophomores and played a lot of guys. Now with the BIIF season, we want to play hard and improve every game. We want to gel at the right time.”
The valuable Carter, a 6-0 forward, provides inside-out scoring, strong rebounding and solid defense. Teofilo, a 6-1 forward, gives Kamehameha a force in the paint. And the 6-0 Kiko, a guard-forward, is instant offense with a potent perimeter shot that can fuel lopsided Kamehameha runs.
The juniors on the squad include Dayson Alip (5-9 guard), Jonah Kaaihue (5-8 guard), Jonathan Correa (5-9 guard), Micah Kanehailua (5-10 forward), Kekaulike Alameda (5-5 guard) and Naika Penaroza (5-10 forward). Sophomores Pukana Vincent (5-11 guard), Kaeo Batacan (5-5 guard) and Bayley-Allen Manliguis (5-7 guard) also fit well into the mix and will be counted on as important contributors.
“I like this team,” Pacheco said. “If we can put it together and gel at the right time, we’ve got a shot at a state berth. I know it isn’t going to be easy, but if we can do the right things and play together as a team, good things can happen.”
An no matter what happens this season, Pacheco says the game experience his underclassmen pick up will help over the next couple of years.
“We have some really good sophomores on our varsity this year, and some tall guys on the junior varsity team that will be coming up,” the coach said. “I really like our chances in two years. But for now, we’ll focus on getting better every game and peaking at the right time.”
Pacheco is assisted this season by Brandon Kauhi, Todd Yanagi, Donald Yamada, Vincent Ulloa, Keone Vincent and Adam Kakalia.