Oregon Institute of Technology junior point guard Brandon Bautista remembers the glory days of Kohala basketball.
Bautista, an all-state selection and three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II Player of the Year while at Kohala, was a key member of the Cowboys’ teams that won three consecutive BIIF championships from 2006 to 2009.
After hearing the news over the weekend of Kohala’s 67-53 upset win against Hawaii Preparatory Academy in the BIIF championship game, Bautista was ecstatic. The banner is the first for Kohala since Bautista was a high school junior.
“It’s incredible. I was so excited for them,” Bautista said. “I keep in touch with some of the boys, especially Kealen Figueroa. I stay in contact with him and he keeps me up-to-date with everything that is going on. The players and coaches are like an extended family for me.”
While Bautista now plays on a bigger stage, the former Cowboy reminisces on playing basketball in front of the rowdy Kapaau crowds.
“I miss playing ball for Kohala. Everything about it was fun,” Bautista said. “It’s such a small town and there are no distractions. Kohala is a basketball town and playing in the Hisaoka Gym is an experience I’ll never forget. I think the whole community there really believes in the basketball team.”
When longtime Oregon Institute of Technology coach Dan Miles recently won his 1,000th game, the former Big Island standout played a key role in the basketball milestone.
Bautista scored 12 points to go along with two assists and two steals as the visiting Hustling Owls defeated Corban University 71-51 in Salem, Ore.
With the win, Miles, in his 43rd season at the NAIA Division II school in Klamath Falls, Ore., became only the second coach at a four-year college to earn 1,000 victories during his coaching career. The other is Harry Staham of NCAA D-II McKendree University (Illinois), with 1,076 wins in 48 seasons.
“It’s great playing with such a successful coach,” Bautista said. “He reminds me of coach Don (Fernandez) sometimes, teaching us life lessons away from the court. He always said if you play for Oregon Tech it will be like getting your first job. Be 15 minutes early for everything — practice, meeting travel — and be presentable for every occasion.”
Miles, a member of the NAIA Basketball Hall of Fame, is a legend in small-college basketball. He’s won three national titles at the school — 2004, ’08 and ’12 — and had 10 seasons with 30 or more wins, including the 2012 national title team that won a school-record 34 games.
“Brandon has been a great defender all year,” Miles said. “He’s a special young man. He truly understands the game and how it should be played. He handles the ball a lot for us and has a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is outstanding.”
Bautista, who has started all 27 games this year, is one of two Hawaii players on the Hustling Owls roster. The other is former HPA forward Tyler Van Kirk, a freshman who has been a valuable rebounding and defensive specialist for Oregon Tech this season, earning 17 starts in 27 games.
“Since it was Tyler’s first here, I tried to make it as welcoming as I could for him,” Bautista said. “I didn’t want him to feel homesick because I know the feeling. Being up in the mainland for a Hawaii kid it can be hard. In Hawaii, family is so supportive and important. When you come up here it’s different, but if you have people who know where you come from, understand your goals and are supportive, it can make that transition a lot easier.”
Miles likes the Hawaii connection and what Bautista and Van Kirk have brought to the program. Miles’ son, Matt, is the Hustling Owls head baseball coach, in his seventh season.
This year’s baseball team includes freshmen outfielder Domonic Morris (Konawaena) and third baseman Bryce Asoa (Mid-Pacific) and sophomore pitcher Darian Benanua (Kamehameha-Kapalama).
Bautista, a 5-foot-7 guard, has been part of the Oregon Tech basketball program for four years, redshirting as a freshman. This season, Bautista has been an iron man for Miles, logging a team-high 32 minutes per game in Oregon Tech’s up-tempo style. The Hustling Owls average 77 points per game and lead the NAIA’s D-II in made 3-pointers per game at 10.4.
Bautista starts at point guard and is averaging 12 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2 steals per contest. But it’s the intangibles that make Bautista one of the top players in the 10-team Cascade Collegiate Conference this year.
“Coach gives me a great opportunity to get on the court and play,” Bautista said. “Even though I’m the smallest guy on the court the majority of time, he believes in me and it’s motivation to give my best.”
Bautista also has excelled in the classroom, and credits Miles with creating an atmosphere where academic success is praised as much as on-court prowess.
“Our team as a whole strives to have a high GPA,” Bautista said. “We don’t want to just meet the minimum to play. Coach pushes us to be better in all aspects of life and to always be a competitor.”
The Hustling Owls are hoping to build on the win over Northwest University and make a strong run in the conference’s eight-team playoffs. The regular-season champion as well as the playoff champion earn berths in the 32-team NAIA D-II national championship tournament.
If Oregon Tech is going to make a charge for the national tourney, Bautista will certainly play an important role in what has already been a milestone season for Miles and the point guard out of Kohala High.
“We have two games coming up this week in Portland, and I think if we can attack and get these two wins we can sit well in the playoffs picture,” Bautista said.
Kohala will face Kauai in the first round of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament at Kalani High School at 5 p.m. Thursday.