Q&A: Kahuku basketball coach Brandyn Akana
Kahuku celebrated its 70-55 win over Punahou to win the Division I state boys basketball title. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser. (Feb. 16, 2017)
Brandyn Akana is not a fortune teller, nor is he a prophet.
He simply wants to enjoy the moment, which is a wise choice. Kahuku’s first boys basketball state championship captured the imagination of hometown fans and faraway foes alike. With all the chaos that surrounded the University of Hawaii men’s basketball program while he was an assistant coach there, the NCAA violations, the questions over the hiring of Akana at Kahuku, much of it has settled down like dust from a windstorm that has blown through town. The anguish of those inside the program — a new coaching staff, players left to continue on – and those outside, is seemingly now behind them. With the NCAA’s subsequent, long-awaited decision to not punish the program any further than its self-imposed sanctions, Akana had already moved on.
Winning a Division I state championship can have that effect. Akana, 41, was open and frank during a conversation this week with Hawaii Prep World. His nephew, Jessiya Villa, set the bar for point guards statewide, returning to the islands and setting the speed and tone for the fastbreaking Red Raiders. While Villa went on a run that led to a state title and Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 player of the year honors, teammate Samuta Avea recovered from an offseason ankle injury and rewarded loyal fans by powering Kahuku, earning all-tourney most outstanding player honors at the state championships.
Avea has signed with Hawaii. Villa’s future is unclear, aside from a commitment to go on a two-year church mission. Akana? He expects to return, but his passion for coaching at the college level remains. So does his love for competing, and forming analyses of teams and players. In a Hawaii Prep World story about today’s All-State team, Akana was among the coaches who provided commentary on each of the players, as well as a few players who barely missed the list.
Here’s the Q&A.
Hawaii Prep World: You’ve said to me before that you just want to enjoy and celebrate what the team did this season, winning states, going 26-3, arguably one of the best state championship teams in history. But I know fans are wondering what will happen next season. You were at the college level for so long, it makes sense that you might return there sooner rather than later, no differently from other Hawaii coaches who are often overqualified at the prep level. Have you been getting contact with college programs?
Akana: Yes, definitely. I’m already getting calls. That’s another thing. What do I want to do? That’s why it’s kind of like I need to think of my family, it’s a family decision. Do I go back to the collegiate level, stay at high school? There’s a lot of options, that’s why I try to enjoy what we have right now. I spent 15, 16 years at the collegiate level. This is a year and a half of high school, which is a whole new world to me. Where am I most comfortable?
HPW: You’ve got children in school right now.
Akana: Four children. The girls are in 10th grade and ninth grade at Kamehameha. They play volleyball. We have a son, 12, and a 3-year-old. If I have a chance to coach at the collegiate level, it’s probably the mainland and you have to think about the kids.
HPW: I wonder if the local Division II colleges have been interested. If BYU-Hawaii wasn’t shutting down its athletic program, that would be a possibility, maybe.
Akana: I’ve talked to some of those D-II individuals so that’s an option. Fortunately, I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been on the D-II side longer. I know what both have to offer. I plan to return. it’s been great. I plan to. But you never know.
HPW: Dan Fotu is was a skilled, explosive, smart low-post scorer who was a wing for the New Zealand junior national team. At the next level, he’ll have to develop his perimeter shot and footwork. He has a lot of potential.
Akana: He can hit the 3, no doubt about it. I was saving that where we’d pop him out to shoot the 3.
HPW: There are people criticizing the influx of transfers — Fotu and Samuta Avea, even though he was originally from Kahuku — though there have been other high schools here that have received transfers from other states and other countries. What would you say to the critics?
Akana: I know Dan’s got his family, his uncle is here. I know the school followed everything. I’m not in the mix of it, but there’s nothing to say. It’s unfortunate that some people are digging and trying to, I don’t know, trying to find fault with it. Jessiya’s here. He’s going to graduate. Muta, that’s why he came back. To graduate with his friends at Kahuku.
HPW: I’ve heard from a few people that Fotu went home to New Zealand. Will he come back to Kahuku? If I had to guess, it would be 30 percent that he returns to Kahuku for his senior season.
Akana: Right now I think it’s higher than that. The thing is there’s a lot of college teams looking at him. Gonzaga is one of the schools contacting him. They just love his game. They saw him in New Zealand. UH has been in contact. They went down to New Zealand before the season to talk with him.
HPW: If he was homesick, missed his family, doesn’t want to return to Kahuku with the seniors graduating, that would make sense.
Akana: That’s something they’ve got to decide. I know he’s planning on coming back. He didn’t go home for good. He went home to see his family, and he’s coming back soon. That’s what I know.
HPW: What’s your relationship with the current UH staff and coach Eran Ganot like?
Akana: It’s good. We still text each other and he’s been following us, watching our practice because of Samuta, and they love Fotu. Jessiya is a 2019 kid because he’s going on his mission. These guys are not your typical, what you see come from Hawaii. He was born here, but played in DC. Just like Muta. He went to Utah one year. Fotu had one year of international ball.
HPW: Thank you for spending time for this interview, Coach.
Akana: No problem, thank you for supporting our program.