Akana lands on his feet at Kahuku
Brandyn Akana, the former University of Hawaii assistant basketball coach, is in the midst of a great comeback.
He is the head coach of the Kahuku High School boys varsity team. The squad is 5-0 in the OIA East and 14-3 overall, ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser’s statewide poll. Kahuku continued to prove it is for real Friday by knocking off perennial power Kalaheo, 81-60, at the Mustangs’ gym.
“I’m used to the university atmospshere, but I’m really enjoying it,” said Akana, who also coached at his college alma mater, Brigham Young-Hawaii. “It’s my first opportunity to coach younger kids.”
Akana’s team is loaded with talent. It includes three stars with island connections, but who were nowhere near Kahuku or even Hawaii at all last year, when Alan Akina was coach for most of the season.
There’s senior point guard Jessiya Villa, Akana’s nephew and son of Kahi Villa. Kahi was such a great all-around athlete that he played pro ball in both baseball and basketball. Jessiya, who was born here but is a transfer from West Virginia (Kahi worked for the Secret Service), scored 22 points in the Kalaheo win.
Samuta Avea is another mainland bounce-back. He played at Kahuku as a sophomore. The 6-foot-6 senior who scored 14 points with nine rebounds against Kalaheo recently committed to the University of Hawaii.
Another intriguing prospect is 6-foot-7 junior forward/center Dan Fotu, who arrived from New Zealand last month in time to help Kahuku to a stunning performance in the ‘Iolani Prep Classic. Yes, he’s the younger brother of former UH forward Isaac Fotu.
That brings us full circle, around the island from Manoa to the North Shore and back — and raises some interesting questions.
In December 2015, the NCAA levied sanctions against UH based on its investigation of the men’s basketball program. Among them was a two-year “show-cause” order against Akana that basically bans him from employment at an NCAA member school, unless he can “show cause” as to why his eligibility should be reinstated. The two-year order is in effect until Dec. 21 of this year.
The NCAA investigation was spurred by UH self-reporting that Akana had altered paperwork regarding Stefan Jankovic’s transfer to Hawaii from Missouri, after the document had been signed by Jankovic’s father. Akana was suspended and then fired.
The ensuing NCAA investigation also found that a player had been given an iPad, which was against NCAA rules. Although the name of the player was not made public, several sources told the Star-Advertiser it was Isaac Fotu. Fotu, coming off a stellar sophomore season, was in October 2014 suspended indefinitely from playing in games, and then left school to pursue a pro career the next month.
“It’s a blessing in disguise after looking at everything. It was unfortunate how everything went down, but it gave me a chance to do what I’m doing now,” said Akana, who said he holds no ill will toward anyone at UH. “I stay away from (holding grudges). I really enjoyed my time there. There’s a lot of good friends and great people there who I stay in touch with.”
Akana recruited Isaac Fotu to UH, and he remains close to the family.
“The dad wanted to send Daniel to experience America, high school academically,” Akana said. “He found out that I was coaching here and that helped.”
I met Brandyn Akana nearly 20 years ago when he was a player at BYUH. I don’t know him outside of work, but in professional settings he’d always been accessible (except during the NCAA situation) and affable. I like to think he made one out-of-character error in the document alteration, and any other mistakes came with his heart in the right place.
NCAA rules and the way they are enforced often don’t match the magnitude of the supposed transgressions; the NCAA has even admitted this itself in its response (though no action yet) to UH’s appeal of the postseason ban included in the sanctions.
With that being said, the administration at Kahuku has shown a lot of faith in Akana. Maybe some of it has to do with his ability to so quickly put together a super team.
Akana replaced Akina, who was suspended (and later vacated the position) last year when parents complained about playing time for their sons. They claimed Akina was favoring his own two sons with undeserved minutes — which Akina vehemently denied to the point of a lawsuit.
Kahuku is also where an excellent football coach, Reggie Torres, was inexplicably fired in 2014, and replaced by a coach from the mainland who lasted just one season.
Brandyn Akana seems deserving of this second chance. It sure did come about quickly.