It’s Back To Basics For IPA As Team Aims For State Tourney

When former University of Hawaii-Hilo assistant basketball coach Taisei Ando met up with Island Pacific Academy’s Jay Brenner during the Maui Sports Elite Camp this summer, neither knew they would soon be reunited at IPA.

“His was a familiar face,” said Ando, who recently began his first season as the head coach at IPA.

“It (his hiring) was kind of sudden, but to be a head coach is a great opportunity to use the things I learned at the college level.”

Both Brenner and Ando are now on a mission to return IPA to the state tournament in February, something the program accomplished two years ago under Ando’s predecessor, Joe Payongayong.

In Brenner, the Navigators will have the equivalent of a coach on the floor, to hear Ando tell it.

“He has very good dribbling skills and a nose for getting to the basket. He also can shoot from the outside, so he’s a threat inside and outside.”

IPA already has met Mid-Pacific, Pearl City and Waipahu in preseason games. Although it dropped all three encounters, Ando was encouraged.

“We’re progressing,” he said. “We have a lot of young players and inexperienced players (game-wise). We’re starting with the fundamentals and going back to the basics before we move forward.”

While youthful overall, the Navigators will feature more veteran leadership in seniors Harvey Alexander and Kennedy Wilson.

Alexander will play either the power forward spot or a post position. Wilson is capable of playing all five positions, but he recently broke an ankle and will miss several weeks.

“We hope to have him back toward the end of the season,” Ando said of Wilson. “Alexander is a bundle of energy and speed.”

IPA is still without its own gymnasium, so the team practices at a community park in Makakilo. The Navigators could have their own on-campus facility at this time next year but are making due for the present. Despite that, the program has performed well in recent years.

“We have a natural defender – the elements,” Ando said good-natured-ly.

IPA returns to action this weekend when it plays three games as part of the Le Jardin Academy Pre-Season Tournament.

The Navigators will play Kapaa at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Games with Kaimuki (1:30 Friday) and Pigeon Lake High (1:30 Saturday) will follow.

Expect IPA to try to tighten up defense as it progresses through its pre-season.

“The fundamentals of defense – defending on the help side, being in the right stance – they need work on it. We have to start (emphasizing defense) at the intermediate level so they’re ready when they come up to the varsity.”

In addition to working as an assistant under Jeff Law at UH-Hilo, Ando also spent time coaching at Newton High School in Queens, New York.

“From the parents to the players and coaches, there’s an intensity and love of basketball there,” he recalled. “It was a great place to learn how to be a (head) coach.”

IPA’s Interscholastic League of Honolulu regular-season opener is set for Jan. 5 versus University High.