By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Ka’u boys basketball coach Ravel Kaupu Jr. can’t quite put his finger on “it” yet. Perhaps “it’s” the senior-laden starting lineup. Or maybe “it’s” the versatility. Could “it” be the interchangeable parts?
Whatever the reason, Kaupu sees a Trojans outfit that could have the “it” factor by the end of the season.
“I have a feeling about this team,” he said.
Kaupu played at and has been around Ka’u all his life, so he’s well aware of the inherent disadvantages the Trojans face when competing against the larger schools in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
That’s why two of his favorite words are “no excuses.”
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” he said.
Take the practice situation at Ka’u, for example. The school gym can only handle one varsity and junior varsity team at a time, so the girls and boys programs switch back and forth between gyms in Pahala and Naalehu. However, that will change next year when a new facility in Pahala is expected to be completed.
Senior Larry-Dan Al-Navarro won’t be around for the new digs, so he’d at least like to leave his mark on the old one.
“We need a banner,” said Al-Navarro, who carries the confidence to match his athleticism.
Ka’u won just two games last season, and all three of the players who received honorable mention all-BIIF have departed. But the Trojans get a boost with the return of Al-Navarro, a slasher who can play guard or forward.
The 5-foot-11 Al-Navarro sat out last season and was still working his way back into form in the preseason. That didn’t stop him from consistently showing the ability break down defenders to get to the basket.
“I need to make up for lost time,” he said.
Al-Navarro is versatile, and so are many of his teammates, including seniors Alexis Alejo, Chance Emmsley-Ah Yee and Franklin Orcino and junior Brian Gascon. All five starters took turns leading the team in scoring during the preseason, and Alejo and Al-Navarro feel the unit’s chemistry is a strength.
“Everybody has to do their job and contribute to play as a team,” said Kaupu, who echoed one of his favorite sayings: “It’s a process.”
One of the highlights of the first such process came during a third-place finish behind Division I schools Hilo and Waiakea at St. Joseph’s preseason basketball tournament. The next step will be trying to qualify for the four-team playoffs in Division II, a journey that starts Friday when Ka’u opens the regular season at home against Kamehameha.
Hawaii Prep appears to be the clear-cut favorite in D-II, while Kohala, Pahoa, Ka’u, Honokaa and St. Joseph all have their weaknesses to overcome as they figure to battle for the next three spots.
Like many of their BIIF brethren in Division II — any school not named HPA, in fact — the Trojans won’t intimidate many opposing teams with their height. Kaupu is optimistic Ka’u can make up for lack of size with effort plays and making the extra pass, while Alejo says the Trojans can use their speed as a disruptive force while while playing harassing defense.
Perhaps “it” will come down to whether the Trojans came make life helter-skelter for their opponents.
“We want to play fast and make it difficult for other teams to keep up,” Alejo said. “We have good ball-handlers and can run and play good defense.”
Editor’s note: This is another installment in a series of BIIF boys basketball previews.
Next: Hawaii Prep, Wednesday.