New Basketball Coach Molding Kaiser Team Into A Family

First-year head coach Branden Kawazoe knows all about boys prep basketball on Hawaii island, having been the BIIF Player of the Year during his playing career at Waiakea High.

He recently took his Kaiser Cougars to his old stomping grounds to expose them to that island’s hoops scene and a preseason tour-ney. They returned with a 2-2 record, but the game experience was far more important than that, in Kawazoe’s view.

“It was a perfect learning experience for us,” he said. “We gave everyone opportunities in the games and saw the areas where our players need to get better.”

As an assistant coach at Iolani, Kawazoe helped lead the Raiders to a pair of state titles during a successful four-year run there. Prior to joining Kaiser, he had been an assistant at Iolani under Dean Shimamoto. He also worked 2007-2009 as assistant coach at Pacific University in Oregon, played for PU from 2002-2006 as a three-year starter and two-time All-Conference pick for the Boxers.

The Cougars are preparing for this week’s Iolani Classic, but long-range prospects are foremost on Kawazoe’s mind. “The focus has been on getting better every day and building on the fundamentals of the game and all of the little things. We’re working at becoming a true team, and a family and buying into the system.

“Some of the things I like about this team is that they compete – they play extremely hard. Slowly they’re buying in. We’re building a foundation, and they’re becoming accountable for their actions. We’ve talked about (instilling) life attributes with both JV and varsity, taking responsibility, making good choices – and we’re heavy on (promoting) our academics.”

In twins Melvin and Trevin Kahunanui, Kawazoe has found seasoned leaders. Both played for Kaiser’s state championship football team this fall. “They both work hard, and the guys lean on them,” he said.

The team’s starting five, is highlighted by 6-foot-5 sophomore Chance Kalaugher. “He’s very versatile – he can shoot, he can put it on the floor, and he has the potential to be a college player some day,” he said. “With him, we’re pounding into him the fundamentals and the little things.”

He also expects junior point guard Kelsey Lewis and seniors Tarius Hill and Makena Kaneaiakala to be big contributors. “Kelsey has become our floor general. He’s developing the qualities of a leader. We want him to take the reins of the team and be a leader by example. Tarius and Makena are part of the foundation of our team and our program. They’re finding their roles.”

Kaiser’s OIA Eastern Conference opener is set for Jan. 3 at Kailua.