Kahuku Eyes Friday’s Key Hurdle To Post-season: Moanalua

If the Moanalua boys basketball team ever needs a lobbyist, Kahuku head coach Darren Johnson could qualify. Johnson was sold on Na Menehune last year.

“They were a good young team then, and they’re all back this season,” said Johnson, whose Red Raiders host Moanalua at 7 p.m. Friday in a critical OIA Red Conference matchup. “They’re really good, and their coach is really good. They’re in basketball form. They can push the ball, and they play good team basketball. They and Kalaheo are the top teams (in the East).”

Moanalua entered last Thursday’s late action in a tie for first in the East with Kalaheo at 6-0. Kahuku stood at 4-2, having won three of its previous four games. For seeding purposes especially, Friday’s game could figure huge in both teams’ post-season prospects. And while Johnson has been zeroing in on Moanalua’s tendencies, the focus lately for the Red Raiders has been more on themselves. With the bulk of its roster filled by football players, Kahuku is generally slow-starting as they return to basketball form.

“We’re doing good things, and we’re still trying to put some of the pieces together,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping to play our best basketball now and in February. That’s when it all counts. We’re trying to use everything now as a stepping stone.”

Kahuku did exactly that last year, winning the OIA post-season tournament before advancing to the state title game where they lost to Punahou. This season, injuries also have undermined Kahuku’s upward mobility to a degree. Senior point guard Kawe Johnson also was missing for a time, as he took part in a prestigious football all-star team as well as visiting New Mexico State, where he will go to school and play in the fall.

Depth and balance have carried the Red Raiders, meanwhile. Twelve players saw action for Kahuku in their Farrington game last week, with 10 cracking the scoring column.

One constant has been Kahuku’s will to work in practice, according to Johnson. “Our kids play hard, that’s for sure. We make mistakes, but we do play hard.”

Kahuku’s defensive play will likely be a key in the coming weeks. “We definitely have to get better on defense,” he said. “We also have to make sure we score points, too. As a whole, we’d like to play better as a team. We are getting better – just not as fast as we’d like.”

In three of Kahuku’s wins recently, the Red Raiders have held the opposition to under 40 points.

On the heels of Friday’s game with Moanalua, Kahuku will close out its OIA season Monday, when it travels to Hawaii Kai to play Kaiser.