Rooting For Coach Alika Smith

Kalaheo coaches Kimo Lee (left) and head coach Alika Smith. The Mustangs won the Division I championship this season | Dennis Oda photo courtesy ‘Honolulu Star-Advertiser’

I’ve always considered Alika Smith as one of Hawaii’s favorite sons. His rise as a basketball star at Kalaheo and later the University of Hawaii, his relationship with his late father, the legendary coach Pete Smith, and now back-to-back state titles as the head coach of his alma mater makes his story all the more compelling.

But there is more.

Days after leading the Mustangs to a scintillating overtime victory in the HHSAA Division I state title game over previously top-ranked Maryknoll, Smith was still basking in the high from the victory.

“I think I’ll stay up here,” he says with a smile.

Smith was still in awe of his team that climbed the ladder from what he called “scrawny sophomores” a couple of years ago in his first season as head coach at Kalaheo to the Division II title a year ago, followed by the Division I championship this season.

“All of us were scrawny kids at one time,” he laughs, remembering his own youthful playing days. “But these kids worked so hard, and we built up the program.

They came such a long way. It was amazing watching them.”

He singled out the growth of the tournament’s most outstanding player, senior Josh Ko, who led the Mustangs with 28 points in the title game. Ko was one of those sophomores who joined Smith in the journey back to basketball prominence two years ago.

“He has such great basketball smarts, and his confidence has gone way up,” Smith says. “I was talking with his father (Marvin) and he says, ‘Josh is just like you. He’s even soft-spoken. It’s like you’re watching yourself in the mirror.'”

Smith also mentioned a sophomore on this year’s team, Kupaa Harrison, for his clutch play down the stretch in the championship run. “It didn’t matter what we were up against when we were tested in those last games. They showed such resiliency.”

But Smith himself may have shown the greatest resilience. Few people know the challenges he’s faced in the past couple of years with his own health.

“I was diagnosed with a very rare skin disorder a couple of years ago,” he says. “Only about one in 300,000 people have it. There’s no cure; you just have to wait it out.”

Smith says the disorder caused hospitalization a while back, and he spent several days bedridden.

“I take a pill, kind of like chemotherapy,” he says. “It makes you (nauseous) and tired. I have to save up my energy.”

He recalls the days on end lying in his bed, and he actually laughs about it now.

“During the Olympics, I watched hours and hours of every sport imaginable,” he says. “But (that time) was really tough.”

He says he saves his strength to make it to games and practices and didn’t miss a single one this entire season.

“You have to fight through it,” he says. “You can’t show these kids any weakness.”

He says his team is aware of the situation and is very supportive. His staff and his family also help out tremendously. Through the challenges and many difficult days, Smith stays “up.” He says it’s the only way he knows how to be.

“It’s rough, but I’m staying positive,” he says.

Staying positive in the face of adversity is a quality that lifts Alika Smith every day, and always will. It’s what makes him the favorite son we’re always rooting for, both on the court and off.