Villa Tradition Continues
Local hoop fans once again are looking forward to one of the best high school basketball tournaments in the nation this month, when the annual Iolani Classic takes place Dec. 17-22. But for a local basketball family, this year's classic will be one for the memory books.
We all know Bill Villa, the affable athletic director from Chaminade University. Bill played basketball at Kamehameha and was a pretty good point guard back in the day, earning the nickname "Bullet Bill" for his quickness on the court.
A generation later, Bill's son Kahi became one of Kamehameha's top athletes of the 1990s. In 1992, Kahi scored the winning points in one of the most thrilling Hawaii high school basketball state championships game ever.
"I just remember the game went on forever," Kahi recalls.
Hoops fans were jumping out of their seat sat Blaisdell Arena as Kamehameha battled Hilo for three overtimes.
The game was tied at 73all in the final seconds of the third overtime, when the Warriors got the ball back and started one of their classic fast breaks. Kahi, only a sophomore but already one of the top players around, was on the wing, with all-state guard Louis Vargas in the middle. When Vargas made his pass to Villa, the youngster took it hard to the glass, scored and was fouled.
His three points were the difference in a scintillating 76-73 Kamehameha win for the state title.
After graduation, Kahi became a professional athlete in two sports.
He played minor league baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization immediately after high school, and then after a stellar basketball career at BYU-Hawaii, he played professional basketball in the Phillipines - a country that is crazy for basketball.
He was still playing pro ball when he got the career call of a lifetime:
He had earned a job with the U.S. Secret Service, and now serves in the unit that protects the White House. He has previously served on the president's detail and even has done so while President Obama vacationed in Hawaii.
But Kahi will get a chance for his own vacation this Christmas when he and his big family come back to the Islands from their home in West Virginia to watch the Iolani Classic.
Kahi is married to Suelan Akana, the youngest sister of former UH and BYUH basketball stars Jarrin and Brandyn Akana. Kahi and Suelan have seven children between the ages of 2 and 17.
The oldest is Jessiya, a junior point guard for Martinsburg (West Virginia) High School, which will play in the Iolani Classic for the first time ever.
Its opening game in the classic is set for Thursday, Dec. 17, at 6 p.m. against Kahuku.
"Jessiya was born in Laie and fell in love with the game at a very early age," Kahi says.
"He's been doing the drills you see at the Agena clinic since the age of 6. When he was in middle school, he was offered (a scholarship) by (then - Hawaii coach) Gib Arnold."
Kahi says Jessiya hasn't spoken with current UH coach Eran Ganot, but says his son is still being courted by a number of mid-major schools, including Gonzaga.
"He's a very gifted, very fast point guard, the kind you're used to seeing play at Gonzaga," he says.
Kahi's dad Bullet Bill credits Glenn Young (Iolani Classic founder who died recently) with securing the invitation for Martinsburg, a city in the West Virginia panhandle located a little over an hour away from Kahi's job in Washington, D.C.
"I told Glenn about Jessiya and his team, and he was able to send them the invitation after last year's tournament," Bill says.
The entire Villa-Akana ohana will be on hand in Iolani's gym this month to watch Jessiya work his on court magic.
"It will be hard to hold back the emotions," Kahi says.
"I remember playing in the Iolani Classic and how much it meant to me, and to see my own son playing in it will be the best."