There were no shortcuts for Nalu Kahapea, who not only ran around the block to become a better player in so many ways but also flew away, too, for skill sharpening.
The 6-foot-5 Kamehameha senior returned for his last BIIF season as a well-rounded, dominant force. Last season, he was a back-to-the-basket player, the offense was limited and the Warriors went nowhere.
Kahapea produced a monster final campaign and was a runaway choice for the BIIF Division I player of the year in a vote by the league’s coaches, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today, providing consistent scoring (22 points per game) and window cleaning (10 rebounds per game).
In order of votes, the other All-BIIF first-team members are Keaau senior Rico Handy, Konawaena senior Austin Ewing, Hilo sophomore Kekaukahi Alameda, Kamehameha senior Isaiah Nakoa-Oness, Kealakehe senior Bryton Lewi, and Konawaena senior Hauoli Akau.
“I was very determined to get D-I POY. It was a personal goal of mine ever since high school ball,” Kahapea said. “I really took time to work on my craft and ball work to get to where I wanted to be. I really spent a lot of time on Oahu with various coaches like Alika Smith, Derrick Low and Kanisha Bello. All these people helped me gain so much more knowledge about the game of basketball.”
Kamehameha’s Mea Wong was named the BIIF coach of the year, after directing the Warriors to their first league title since 2012 and changing the culture with an emphasis on responsibility.
That started with Kahapea, who improved his ball-handling to pass from the perimeter and post up, take a 3-pointer or fire mid-range jumpers and fadeaways. With his footwork, he could also take other bigs off the dribble for baseline bank shots, adding efficiency to his high-percentage workload.
“If he wanted to continue playing basketball after high school, he had to be able to play facing the basket, and this year that was one of his biggest strengths,” Wong said. “Obviously his scoring, rebounding and presence in the paint were vital to our team’s success. He developed his ability to lead by example day in and day out. He brought his best foot forward every day and as a coach, we continued to be on him about that, knowing that if his teammates saw him slack off, they may slack off too. He never did.
“The most valuable thing he brought to our basketball team was his consistency on a daily basis. What he did each game was what he did every day at practice. Nalu has grown into a mature young man who has developed the attitude and mindset that you cannot take shortcuts and you must work hard every day.”
Wong also tagged Kahapea with the Magic Johnson description — beyond the nice-guy smile lurks a cold-blooded assassin.
“On the court, Nalu is a killer,” Wong said. “He wants to do whatever is necessary for his team to win, and he does not shy away from the moment.”
Though the muscular Kahapea looks like he would be a perfect fit on a football field, he grew up playing hoops as a 5-year-old. He first started on coach Kimo Alameda’s Rise Above team.
But he didn’t rely on brute strength to score in the post. Kahapea also worked with former Rainbow Wahine and current Punahou girls basketball coach Shawna-Lei Kuehu on Oahu.
“I learned so much about my strengths this year as a leader and basketball player,” he said. “Outsmarting my opponents with counter moves or changing speeds to throw them off. It was a mind game for me more than a physical game. I learned about this over the summer time where Shawna-Lei Kuehu would test me on positioning and move sets to help beat my opponents.
“The key for us to win a BIIF title was that everyone had to contribute and play as one. ‘We > Me’ was our motto to help bring everyone closer and to make sure no one felt left out. We had many pregame meals at my grandma’s house to help build the chemistry before games and also communicating with teammates during school to help build better relationships.”
And Kahapea pointed out that grandparents provide instrumental guidance.
“A big influence for me was and still is my Papa Sam. He always wanted me to live my dream and do everything to the best of my ability,” he said. “Even though he is not here with us now in this world, I know he is watching over me every step of the way. He has such a huge impact on my basketball career and a huge impact on my life because he showed me the correct way in life and always loved me.”
Kahapea hasn’t decided on a college yet, but he wants to continue in the business and leadership path to become an entrepreneur.
Smith was a dynamic ball-handler at Kalaheo and Hawaii, Low at Iolani and Washington State, Bello at Kamehameha/Waiakea and Idaho/UH and Kuehu was a chess master with her post moves on the court.
They provided Kahapea a great foundation, and he put his vault of knowledge and hard work to good use. And someday soon, he’ll return the favor. Kahapea also wants to become a coach.
All-BIIF boys basketball
Nalu Kahapea, Kamehameha, 12
Rico Handy, Keaau, 12
Austin Ewing, Konawaena, 12
Kekaukahi Alameda, Hilo, 10
Isaiah Nakoa-Oness, Kamehameha, 12
Bryton Lewi, Kealakehe, 12
Hauoli Akau, Konawaena, 12
BIIF player of the year
Nalu Kahapea, Kamehameha
BIIF coach of the year
Mea Wong, Kamehameha
Kamehameha: Kaupena Yasso, Koby Tabuyo-Kahele, Izayah Chartrand-Penera
Konawaena: Paka Cacoulidis
Hilo: Liko Medeiros, Guyson Ogata, Jojo Balagot
Keaau: Patrick Mears, Branden Pagala
Waiakea: Kia’i Apele, Rekky Prudencio, William Soares
Kealakehe: Anthony Trevino, Lewko Lai