Hurricanes Have High Hoops Hopes Heading Into Opener

The Kapolei basketball team is proving that there is, indeed, strength in numbers. A few weeks into a busy preseason, it’s making the most of its 17-member roster.

“Last year, we played about eight (regularly), but by the time we get to the Mililani game, we’ll be playing a lot more (in the regular rotation) than last year,” said head coach Gary Ellison. “We could be playing 11 or 12 – some will depend on the situation.”

The Hurricanes remain one of the most intriguing teams to track this winter after stringing together their best year ever in 2011-12, having gone 18-4 overall and 13-2 against league competition. They also made runner-up in the OIA to Kahuku, dropping a three-game championship round series by a 2-1 count, and advanced to the Division I state tournament.

Hopes are understandably high for Ellison’s current team, as he welcomed back returning starters Chris Dillard, Zach Reeves, Curtis Tavares and Joshua Wills. Senior forward Elijah Gipson is the newcomer to the starting lineup.

For the long haul, its best asset may be its balance, especially with the productivity of its bench lately. Cohesiveness also has enabled Ellison to play such a large rotation. “They work really well together,” he said. “They all get along, and they have each other’s backs and support each other. They actually hang out together off the court.

When you have a team like that, it’s really great. The seniors have taken over some of the coaching duties.

“We have a lot of depth this year,” he added. “It’s hard to single one out, but Dorien (Antonio Martos), Elia (McKeague), Kaeo (Soares) and Brailand (Hern) all have played well, and two juniors – (Aaron) Jackson and (Devettrius) Hayes – also have played well.

Kapolei went 2-1 through its first three games, defeating both Kaimuki and University High, while losing to ILH member Maryknoll. The next test comes this week in the Moanalua tournament, where Kapolei will play Punahou, Iolani and Kamehameha this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively.

While the Hurricanes have met Kamehameha before, they have never played Punahou or Iolani in their 11-year history. “Playing them both will be a first,” Ellison said. “We’re just going to take it one game at a time. Punahou is really disciplined, and Iolani is really, really disciplined offensively and defensively. They play tight pressure (style), man-to-man defense.

“Defense is what we’re focusing on,” he added. “Our offense is O.K. There are some things that we’ve tweaked that the kids are still getting used to.”

This week’s appearance at Moanalua continues a busy month for the Kapolei team. It also will play in the Iolani Classic and the Merv Lopes Holiday Tournament in the coming weeks. Kapolei’s OIA-opener is Jan. 3.