Female Athlete of the Week: Kamalu Kamakawiwoole, Kalani basketball (Kalani Takase)
A weekend trip to the Big Island proved to be a fruitful one for the Kalani girls basketball team and in the thick of it all was Kamalu Kamakawiwoole.
The 6-foot senior led the Falcons (8-2) to a 3-0 mark at the Konawaena Invitational Preseason Tournament in Kealakekua. Kamakawiwoole averaged 17.6 points in wins over perennial state tournament teams Konawaena (66-54, Thursday), Hilo (60-51, Friday) and Lahainaluna (50-41, Saturday).
"It was a good weekend. I think now, more than anything else the team knows that they belong there," Kalani coach Chi Mok said. "It wasn't just one team that they beat. They beat three good, tough teams in three tough games, so it's good to see that not just being able to beat teams by 20, 30 points, but also being able to pull out close games and also a couple of those games we came back from being down, so they now know they're right there at this level with the top-notch teams."
Call it the Kamalu effect. Mok said the Maryknoll-transfer has elevated the level of play of the entire team since joining the a Falcons team that is coming off an Oahu Interscholastic Association championship and sixth-place finish at last February's Division I state tournament.
"I think the other girls look at her and they scrimmage with each other in practice and know they can compete against her, so that gives them added confidence in what they can do and that automatically raises our team confidence," Mok said. "And then just her presence on the court affects the other team as well, so she not only boosts our team, but also affects other teams in how they prepare and adjust to us."
Kamakawiwoole posted back-to-back 20-point games against the Wildcats and Vikings and went for 13 against the Lunas. She hit at least one 3-pointer in each game and shot 15 of 16 from the free-throw line for the tournament.
"I thought she was a difference-maker. She definitely stood out as one of the better players in the tournament, if not the best in that tournament," Mok said.
Mok pointed out in addition to her offensive production, Kamakawiwoole did a lot on the defensive end that doesn't always garner attention.
"Just her ability to affect the other team's shots, her length makes it hard for them to pass, those things don't show up in the stats," Mok said. "We like to press so she's basically the safety who reads the interception, so she gets a lot of steals that way and then when the other team gets into the half court we like to put a lot of pressure on the guards, so if they do get past our guards she'll be the person in the back with her length to make their shot hard and that frees up our guards a little bit to make them more aggressively."
Mok said what impressed him most about Kamakawiwoole's weekend was her competitive spirit.
"I know she has a lot of friends on the outer islands and the outer island teams and just the way she competed and put friendship on the side while she was on the court, her competitive nature, it really shows that she wanted to win," Mok said of the second team All-Hawaii selection last season. "I wouldn't say it caught me by surprise, but it's how competitive she is and how much she wants to win; it's something that I'm realizing moreso when I'm working with her now."
A recent day of practice provided Mok further insight into the character of Kamakawiwoole, who played in three state championship finals at Maryknoll.
"She took it upon herself one day to talk to the team and just kind of let them know what it takes to get to that championship game and that we have what it takes, so that showed a lot of leadership on her part," Mok said.
Kamakawiwoole is averaging a team-best 17.4 points per game with 11 made 3-pointers on the season. She is shooting at a 85.7-percent clip from the free-throw line and has eclipsed the 20-point mark four times this year.
"Offensively she can take you to the basket and drive on you, she can shoot the ball from deep and then she also, once in a while can get the ball inside and she has some nice post moves as well so its really hard to guard her as far as who to guard with. If you put a big on her she can drive past you, if you have a smaller guard on her, she can (receive) the pass inside so it makes it challenging for the other teams," Mok said.
Kamakawiwoole also provides versatility — "She can basically play any position," Mok says — and has become a focal part of the Falcons' first unit.
"She fits right into our system. We like to run, we like to transition and then we also did expand a little bit to gear toward her talents," said Mok, who was selected as the OIA East coach of the year last season. "We let her handle the ball a little bit more than I would let any of our bigs handle the ball, so we revamped a little bit of our offense."
Although Kamakawiwoole spent the last three years attending Maryknoll, she previously attended Kaimuki Middle School, where she played with many of her current teammates.
"She gets along with everyone very easily and she just joined the team but she knew the girls for a while and so it didn't take her long to mesh with the team on the court," Mok said.
Kamakawiwoole and the Falcons open league play this week with a pair of road games. They will visit Moanalua Wednesday and travel to Kalaheo Saturday.