Gatorade Salutes One Of Mustang Basketball’s Finest

For Kalaheo’s Kupa‘a Harrison, there was no direct line to his being named 2014-15 Gatorade Hawaii Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Harrison’s personal time-line will show that 2014 was a year when his health took center stage in the form of three ankle injuries that sidelined him for long periods. “I’d never had a history of injuries, so it was a challenging year,” he admitted. “All the times I had been injured before, I could play through it. I had to take some time away from the court, which was the frustrating part.”

Nothing could derail his upward mobility, however. Indeed, Harrison’s individual honor from Gatorade caps off a stellar year that culminated in Kalaheo winning its third state title in four years in late February.

“I’m pretty happy about it, and I feel like I earned it,” he said of the honor. “It (rehab) was all worth it — especially winning (the state) championship,” he said. “I was about 90 percent this season, but I’d say I’m about 100 percent now. It’s been a long time coming.”

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the court, distinguishes Harrison as Hawaii’s best high school boys basketball player. The honor also qualified him as a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year award. (Ben Simmons of Montverde Academy of Montverde, Fla., won the title.)

Harrison is the second player from Kalaheo in three years to be named Hawaii’s Gatorade Player of the Year, joining Josh Ko, who won in 2013 after leading the Mustangs to the Division I state title. The pair are part of an elite alumni group of boys basketball award winners that includes Dwight Howard (2003-04, SW Atlanta Christian Academy, Ga.), Chauncey Billups (1993-94 and 1994-95, George Washington HS, Colo.), Jason Kidd (1991-92, St. Joseph Notre Dame HS, Calif.), Paul Pierce (1994-95, Inglewood HS, Calif.) and Chris Bosh (2001-02, Lincoln HS, Texas).

The 6-foot-5, 175-pound senior wing led the Mustangs to a 31-3 record and the DI state championship this past season. Harrison averaged 13.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, five assists, 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. In four DI state tournament games, he collected 12.8 points, nine rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.3 assists per outing en route to earning a place on the All-Tournament team.

Harrison was equally diligent in the classroom. He currently has a 3.75 GPA and is one of Hawaii’s top academic candidates in meeting the Gatorade Award’s broad criteria. In addition to volunteering to preserve historic Kailua landmarks, he also has donated his time on behalf of his church.

Harrison is unsure where he will attend college in the fall, but he’s weighing his options. He’s already been offered academic scholarships from Lewis and Clark State, Saint Mary’s and Eastern Washington. Portland and Hawaii Pacific University are among those recruiting him the hardest for his basketball skills.

“Academics are just as important as athletics in looking toward the future,” he said. “Academics can open up a lot of doors for you, if you are strong in the classroom.”

Based in Chicago, the Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field. It awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.

The selection process is administered by the Gatorade high school sports leadership team in partnership with USA TODAY High School Sports, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.