Akina making most of bittersweet homecoming #StraightFromTheBush
Pleasant Grove senior guard Kawika Akina might have been sidelined with a broken hand, but his team made sure that number 21 was well represented at the Iolani Classic regardless.
The 34th Iolani Classic was to be a homecoming almost two years in the making for Akina, who played for Kahuku as a freshman before making the move to Utah to play for Pleasant Grove, but a broken pointer finger knuckle and three metacarpal bones sustained in the Tournament of Champions in Peoria put a damper on his return.
His absence in the Vikings' lineup, however, did not keep family and friends from coming out to Lower Gym to cheer on the team.
"There wasn't really a point for them to come, I mean there wasn't their nephew or friend playing, so it meant a lot for them to still show up and talk to me after the game and tell me how well our team was doing," remarked Akina. "It wasn't coming just for me, they wanted to watch our team and see if we were the real deal."
The entire Vikings team, including the coaching staff, wore shirts with Akina's likeness featured on the front and his number on the back during warm-ups of the opening game of the Classic and again in the final game of the tournament, a nice show of support for the 5-foot-9 guard by his teammates.
"As players, we felt we should honor Kawika for all he's done for the team and for how bad of an injury this is, especially for his senior year," said senior center Matt Van Komen.
More importantly, the Vikings showed their support with their play, notching a win against Moanalua before bowing out to Sierra Canyon in the quarters in a closely-fought battle, 63-54. Pleasant Grove then closed out the Classic with another tight contest to Oak Ridge, 58-51, before closing out the Classic with a 43-35 win over host Iolani.
After arriving from Kahuku heading into his sophomore year, Akina found himself installed as the Vikings' starting point guard in his first year with the team and logged significant minutes in his junior year in a role as sixth man after returning midway through the season from a concussion.
But it wasn't necessarily a match made in heaven from the start.
"He didn't fit in right away, he wasn't crazy coachable," laughed Van Komen. "But he got better over time, and fit in with our program better and better."
And in that vein, Akina's injury could prove to have a silver lining, providing him the perspective of having to see the game from the eyes of coach rather than only a player.
"Its kind of crazy switching your perspective from that of a player to kind of a coaches one, and you realize everything they (the coaches) say is totally true," remarked Akina. "Like before, they would tell me stuff and I'd say, okay that's smart, but now I can kind of see like they were right like 100 percent of the time."
Akina, who currently holds offers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Westminster College and Menlo College, among others, expects to make a return to the court in time for the Vikings' regular season, which begins shortly after the timeframe in which he is projected to be cleared to unrestricted activity.
For now, Kawika and family will take opportunity to enjoy the holidays in Hawaii for a change.
"We usually come back every summer, spend a month or two back home, but this is pretty rare," said Akina."This is our high school's travel time, so usually we're at a tournament or playing games back in Utah, so this is rare to come back during Christmas."