One year after raising the top level banner for the first time in school history, Kahuku will begin defense of their HHSAA division-I boys basketball title on Monday in the opening round of the championship tournament.
To the surprise of many across the state, the Red Raiders will be unseeded and forced to play in the first round after being on the receiving end of an OIA title game stunner by Kalaheo this past Wednesday.
The loss snapped Kahuku’s 13-game winning streak, but make no mistake. The Red Raiders will still be perceived as the team to beat in the bracket.
The OIA power is led behind 6-foot-10 senior center Galen “Tolu” Smith. A transfer from Mississippi who moved to La’ie this past summer is part Samoan and made the move to connect with family and gain a cultural experience before leaving for college. He signed with Western Kentucky to play basketball.
“I mean it’s definitely a culture shock from the foods to the people I mean it’s so family oriented did out here I love it my spiritual side is growing you know? Since I live out in La’ie it’s just been stronger. It’s a second home. I love it here. Although it was a culture shock in the beginning I’ve grown to have a real passion for Hawaii and O’ahu” said Smith.
Although Smith’s mission to provide his new home with multiple championships this season, the league title loss leaves just one title left, but Smith and his team remains motivated to capture it.
“Our end goal is to get the state championship and so that’s what we’re here for so we have to keep getting ‘dubs'” said Smith.
When head coach Brandyn Akana was asked about Smith’s projections at the next level, he was very quick to keep the hype train steaming along and urged fans to take advantage of watching a player of Tolu’s caliber in person.
“He’s six-foot-ten, he just turned seventeen so he’s one of those younger seniors. But yes, sky is the limit. You’ve seen it from when he first arrived to where he is now. He has come a long way and I think it’s not over and he’ll get better and better at the next level. He’ll just continue to get stronger and continue to be for physical and be very successful at that level. People gotta see this kid play” said Akana.
“i’m excited for the next level. I wanna keep going. I mean the dream is NBA or professional basketball because I got to feed my family someday but yeah coach is spectacular. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever met, so it’s a great thing to hear” said Smith.
In his first and only season of Hawaii hoops, Smith has lived up to the hype averaging 21 points per game.
Kahuku will begin their quest for a second straight title on Monday against Kailua.
The Red Raiders were 0-3 in in title games at the state’s top level prior to last season’s victory. Three times in the 1970’s Kahuku won what was called the AA level title which was below what was then considered the “state championship” according to record books.
For a look at the complete HHSAA D-I tournament bracket CLICK HERE
The Division-II tournament will get underway on Wednesday with the quarterfinal round CLICK HERE for the bracket