The roster would make many Division II college coaches envious. As it is, Hawaii Preparatory Academy simply towers above the rest of the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
Evaldas Vegertas is listed at 6 feet, 7 inches, Cole Walter stands 6-6 and David Ovbagbedia and Nicky Palleschi are each 6-4. At 6-3, Hide Akai would be the tallest player on most BIIF teams, but at HPA, he plays on the outside.
“We look pretty good at the airport,” Ka Makani co-coach Fred Wawner said. “But that doesn’t always translate to the court.”
And for all of their height and international flavor, the straw that stirs the drink is a guard: Waimea’s own Kalan Camero.
“Everything starts and ends with him,” Wawner said. “When the game is on the line, he’s our go-to player and we want him to have the ball in his hands.
“I think all the way from peewee on up to the NBA, to have success, you have to have savvy players that can take care of the ball.”
Camero has fit that bill his first three seasons as a starter, helping Ka Makani claim their first BIIF Division II championship in 2012 and a follow-up title in ’13.
HPA must replace three starters, including West Division Player of the Year Jovan Crnic, a facilitator at guard. Camero, 6-1, can play either guard spot, but Wawner and co-coach Dave Huntington would prefer Camero play off the ball and take advantage of open looks when HPA feeds its big guys inside.
“He has the green light to shoot whenever he has the room and time,” Wawner said. “He’s earned and deserved that right.”
Ka Makani doesn’t look like the rest of their BIIF competition, so they won’t try to play like them either. While most teams, especially in Division II, want to raise the tempo and run up and down the court, HPA is content to slow the ball down and play half-court offense.
It will be hard to find more contrasting styles than those favored by HPA and Division II rival Kohala, which features a three- and four-guard offense.
“They are monsters,” Cowboys coach Don Fernandez said of HPA.
But to be at its best, Wawner said his team still has some maturing to do as it gains game experience and basketball IQ. The coaches tinkered with different starting lineups during the preseason, mixing and matching five guards and four post players.
Ovbagbedia is a senior boarding student from Nigeria who’s in his second year with the program but is still learning the finer points of the game, while Vegertas, a senior boarder from Lithuania, is working his way back from an ACL tear.
Junior Justas Gecas, 6-0, also hails from Lithuania and is in the mix to play point guard. Senior guard Kenji Stinson has improved his outside shot, and senior Kellen Gillins also will be in the mix at guard.
If all goes as planned, HPA will try to play with two post players at a time. Call it the BIIF’s version of the “twin towers.”
“While others counter with speed, we need to take advantage of our size and length,” Wawner said. “Guys are working hard. But to just turn around and score is easier said than done. We’ve been slow to understand some things.”
Just like his team’s offensive philosophy, Wawner is in no rush. Ka Makani’s early schedule is unforgiving — they open at Hilo on Friday and host Waiakea a week later — but Wawner’s first goal is to see a “work-in-progress” club that features eight seniors and five juniors develop.
“Our first seven games, we’ll build, take our lumps and understand what we can do and what we can’t,” he said.