Kalaheo’s Preseason Triumphs Predict Solid Season Ahead

If Kalaheo’s best offense should continue to be its defense, it will be just fine with basketball head coach Alika Smith.

Just as Kalaheo never had to worry about scoring when Smith himself was starring for the Mustangs 20 years ago, he doesn’t lie awake nights wondering where scoring will come from now either.

“We can score the basketball,” said Smith. “What’s comforting as a coach is to know that the kids can focus on the defensive end. The way we’ve been playing defense lately has been exceptional. To hold Farrington and Punahou below 40 points at the Punahou tournament was huge.

“Each and every day, the kids come out to play defense at practice,” he added. “We demand a lot, and every kid has helped us in one shape or form.”

As in past years, Kalaheo played a demanding pre-season slate in November and December that included appearances in four tournaments for a total of 16 games. “Win or lose, we still have a lot to learn from preseason,” said Smith, whose team went 14-2 during that period. “We try to put them in every situation possible to grow — whether it’s playing on the road or against great teams, we’ll see down the road.”

Last week, the team opened OIA East play with wins over Kaimuki 59-26 on the road and Kahuku 62-56 at home. The Red Raiders win, which came in overtime, could figure big in the league race if both Kalaheo and Kahuku maintain their current level of play.

Kalaheo was to play McKinley Tuesday before turning its attention to Saturday night’s home game against Kalani. The Mustangs met Kalani Dec.

26 on the first day of the Punahou tournament, winning 63-45. The game was made more memorable by the return of standout Kupa‘a Harrison, who had been out a handful of games with an ankle injury. His return also sparked Kalaheo on the defensive end, according to Smith. “He’s about 80 percent now, but he’s better than most at 80 percent because of the smarts that he has.”

Kalaheo’s starting lineup of late also has included Kaleb Gilmore, Zach Marotte and Kekai and Jalen Smith.

“Zach’s been playing well, and Jalen’s been playing very well,” Smith said. “Our veterans out there have become extensions of us coaches, and they’ve been invaluable in furthering the growth of younger players like Jalen. With Kupa‘a and Kaleb out for six or seven games, we needed our younger players to come through, and they did.”

Smith has special praise for the defensive play of both Kekai Smith and senior Alec MacLeod, who had been filling in for Harrison during his absence. “Kekai can score, but he’d rather focus on stopping someone and taking pride in his defense. He’s been playing against the other team’s best player every night.

“Alec keeps coming up big for us,” he noted. “He’s a very active kid and a key component for us.”

The Mustang roster also features Andrew Kearney, Kekoa Thompson, Alex Layi, Ashton Arnold and Ja-Andre Lamar.

As Kalaheo prepares for Kalani Saturday, Smith is expecting his team to rally around its defensive play once again. “The game will be more about what we do, defensively,” he explained. “They shoot the ball well. We’ll have to play close attention to where people are, and we have to close out on their shooters.”

Following Saturday’s game with Kalani, the Mustangs will have six games remaining. These include road games with Farrington Jan. 21, Kailua Jan. 27 and Roosevelt Feb. 4. The remaining home schedule includes Kaiser Jan. 24, Anuenue Jan. 29) and Moanalua Feb. 6. jackster.1969@yahoo.com