• Paul Honda @ Hawaii Prep World

Don’t forget about defending champion Kahuku

The Kahuku Red Raiders warm up for their game at Kalani. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser (Jan. 3, 2018)

There is a rule in the pristine gymnasium of Kahuku High School.

Thomas Walker, for whom the gym is named after, might approve. The rule is simple. During drills, the Red Raiders will intermittently shoot free throws. For posts like Tolu Smith, the minimum is 7-for-10 at the line. Anything less means four full-court sprints for each miss below seven. Or more.

It’s no easier for the guards, who actually have a threshold of eight. Anything less than 8-for-10 at the charity stripe means four sprints. Or more. So, 6-for-10 in the middle of a tiring drill on a hot day is two short of the minimum. Eight sprints.

The method is working. Smith, a 6-foot-10 post, pumped in 18 points on 6-for-7 field-goal shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Ethan Erickson added 15 as No. 7 Kahuku overpowered Kalani 70-43 at the Falcons’ gym on Wednesday night. Kahuku now has sole possession of first place in the OIA East standings at 4-0 (16-3 overall). It was the first loss in division play for Kalani (3-1), which is registered in Division II, but had been handling D-I competition quite well.

Facing an extended zone defense at the start, Kahuku attacked fluidly and efficiently. Smith had 10 points on 2-for-2 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 at the foul line. He also had three rebounds, a block and an assist in eight minutes.

By the end of the opening quarter, Kahuku was in command with a 19-4 lead. Smith was far from the lone contributor, using his court vision to help move the ball. Erickson had nine points in the first stanza, including a wing 3 on a feed from Smith.

Marcus Damuni was extremely active with six rebounds in the opening period. He finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. At the free-throw line, the Red Raiders were 21-for-31 (68 percent), excellent by most high school standards.

“Our practices are more intense now,” Erickson said. “We’re working harder, coming together and our free-throw percentage is up.”

Erickson did his part, hitting both of his FT attempts. Damuni also went 2-for-2 at the line. Kahuku’s bigs shot a combined 10-for-12 at the foul line, or 83 percent. The rest of the team (guards) was 11-for-19 (59 percent).

“Our football guys are getting there,” Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said. “Our shooting is always something we can get better at. We’ve just got to do it in the gym. Our ballhandling can always get better.”

Kahuku expanded that early lead with a 16-4 run to begin the second quarter. By halftime, the visitors led 37-13 thanks to nine offensive rebounds, 14-for-18 shooting at the free-throw line, and a tough man-to-man defense. Kalani managed to shoot 5-for-21 from the field, including 0-for-6 from the 3-point arc.

“We were afraid to drive and kick. In the third quarter, I told them if we’re going to lose, we’ll lose by playing our hardest,” Kalani interim coach Everett Frye said. “We got more effort in the second half and some guys who don’t get a lot of minutes played well.”

The Falcons brought defensive intensity when the third quarter began, bringing traps near midcourt out of that same matchup zone.

“When we did that, the couldn’t get the ball to Tolu,” Frye noted.

Kalani got a spark from its home crowd during a 9-3 run. Ryan Higashionna drove baseline and fired a lefty pass to Kapaa Nishimura (nine points) for a corner 3. Higashionna also drove for a reverse layup and fed Nishimura on an alley-oop layup. Though Kahuku committed six turnovers in the third quarter and six more in the fourth, the Falcons never got closer than an 18-point margin.

Erickson hustled for a putback and scored a layup on a dish from Smith during a 7-0 run.

Smith played roughly 23 minutes, adding four assists and three blocks to a solid all-around effort. Akana says Smith can still improve his defense.

Frye, a stellar all-star guard at Kalani back in the day, likes what he saw in Smith, a commit to Western Kentucky.

“He’s tough. He’s got a high IQ and a high motor,” Frye said.

The Red Raiders will rise early for a 7 a.m. practice.

“It’s good to get it out of the way,” Smith said. “Then I’ll probably work out again. I’ve got to work on my jump shot and guarding smaller guys.”

And with that, someone hollered that it was time to go. The 35-mile bus ride home to Kahuku beckoned, and many an alarm clock will ring in a matter of hours. The defending state champions would have it no other way.

Don’t forget about defending champion Kahuku

#GalenToluSmithIII #EthanErickson #MarcusDamuni #BrandynAkana

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