Mustangs Hone Defense For This Week’s Pete Smith Tourney

With his team ready to host the annual Pete Smith Pre-Season Tournament this week, Kalaheo head coach Alika Smith figures it’s an appropriate time to re-establish defensive commitment.

“My dad (Pete Smith) always used to say you can have an off shooting night, but you should never have a bad night, defensively,” Smith said. “(Playing) defense is about the want (to play good defense). It’s something you can control. We’ve become a little loose defensively, so we’re trying to tighten it up right now.”

The Mustangs are in the midst of a busy preseason, having played last weekend in the Waiakea/Keaau Boys’ Basketball Tournament. This week’s Pete Smith tournament, which also features Kailua, St. Francis, Campbell, Honokaa, Punahou II, MaryKnoll II, Mid-Pacific, Waimea and an Australian team, should bring more good competition.

“We’re still a work in progress, but I’ve been happy with our work ethic and their wanting to get better.”

Kalaheo went 29-6, and 14-2 versus OIA teams, last season en route to the Division II state title. It will move up to DI this season. The good news is that the team returns veterans Josh Ko, Derick Morgan, Shem Sukumaran, Nainoa Frank, Silia Tucker, Anthony Rowan, Kalani Green and Kurt Vegas.

And in the off-season, it also welcomed highly regarded transfers Kalei Zuttermeister (Castle), Kupaa Harrison (Iolani) and Alec MacLoud (Le Jardin).

“We have different personnel with them, so they’re all learning to play together,” Smith said, “and Kalei is playing a different position. He’s been a shooter, and now we’re asking him to play the five (post) because he’s the longest. He’s hit some big shots for us.

“A lot of people have been playing well. Derick, Josh, Silila and Kupaa all have been doing really well. As long as we can continue to get better, it’s going to help us when we get into league play. We’re trying to control what we control, and the results will take care of themselves.”

Smith also said traveling to the outer islands helps maximize his team’s cohesiveness. “We’re with these kids, and they’re with each other each and every day, and a natural bonding takes place. We also want them to play in a hostile environment where maybe we’re not getting the calls. They have to fight through that and stick together and grow from the experience so they feel more comfortable when they’re in that situation later on. Home teams usually play better and feed off of the crowd.”

The Mustangs are still waiting for center Nainoa Frank to be cleared medically to return to action after suffering a football-related injury in the fall. “Volleyball is still his future, so we’re going to take it slow with him when he comes back, if he can come back.”

The Pete Smith Tournament runs Thursday-Saturday; Kalaheo opens play Waimea Thursday, Mid-Pac Friday and Australia Saturday.

Later this month they play in the Iolani Classic and Merv Lopes tourney. OIA play starts Jan. 3 versus McKinley, an away game.