Hurricane Hoopsters Look Strong After Last Year’s OIA Upset

The Kapolei boys basketball team is looking to finish some unfinished business. Lest anyone forget, the Hurricanes were only a few plays away from winning the OIA Red Conference tournament last February before dropping a hard-fought best-of-three series to Kahuku.

That experience drove them in more ways than one in the off-season, to hear head coach Gary Ellison tell it.

“Playing against Kahuku taught our kids what it takes to win a championship,” said Ellison, whose team officially began practice this week. “When you get to that level, you have to step up your game mentally and physically. Mentally we were up to it; physically we were not. We’ve gotten stronger as a team through the weight room, and some have improved their game as well. Our goal is to play much more aggressive, defensively.”

The Hurricanes went 18-4 overall last season (13-2 against OIA schools), in addition to making an appearance in the Division I state tournament. Nine players from that team return for 2012-13, giving Kapolei one of the most seasoned teams in the state. The lone starter not to return was Josh Farias, who completed his eligibility.

Starters Chris Dillard, Zach Reeves, Curtis Tavares and Joshua Wills all are back, while teammates Dorien Antonio Martos, Elia McKeague, Kula Seno, Kaeo Soares and Michael Kapoi all gained valuable playing time and figure to see their roles expanded.

As last year, Dillard promises to be a difficult matchup for opposing teams with his 6-4 frame and athleticism. “He’s smart with the ball, and he’s really worked on his outside game, so we’ll probably move him to guard at times,” Ellison said.

Tavares will likely return to point guard duties, although Ellison has an interchangeable lineup. “Curtis is probably one of the smartest kids on the team – on and off of the court,” he noted. “He went out this summer and got a whole lot stronger.”

Wills and Reeves also bring size to the lineup at 6 feet and 6-2, respectively. “Joshua is probably our most consistent player; he understands defense better than anybody on the team, and Zach has improved his game a lot – especially his ball-handling. We’ll probably play him at guard, too.”

When going with a smaller lineup, Soares also figures big in Ellison’s plans. “He’ll probably be our best defensive player.”

Having a veteran group has allowed Kapolei to remain ahead of schedule during early-season practice. “It gives us a little more of a boost of confidence than we’ve started with in other years. They all played last year. We’re able to do a lot more early, and we can add things (schematically).”

With the program thriving of late, Kapolei has assembled “the toughest preseason schedule we’ve ever had,” Ellison declared.

The team opens pre-season play Nov. 29 versus Kaimuki (in the first round of the McKinley tournament) and also will play ILH members Iolani, Punahou, Kamehameha and Maryknoll. Kapolei also will play in the Iolani Classic, The Merv Lopes Christmas Tournament and the Moanalua Holiday Tournament by the time of its OIA-opener Jan. 3 with Mililani.