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Big Island boon: In Tablit, Vulcans finally tap Konawaena dynasty for talent

  • Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today
    Instead of venturing off the island to play college basketball as she always thought she would, Konawaena graduate Mikayla Tablit will give UH-Hilo a much-needed boost at guard.

All of the greats on Konawaena’s Mount Rushmore of basketball lore went away to play ball, starting with the first class: Nancy Hoist, Jessica Hanato and Hina Kimitete.

Hanato and Kimitete later transferred to UH-Hilo and finished out their careers, and it was the same thing with Mana Hopkins and Jazzmin Awa-Williams at Hawaii Pacific.

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Mikayla Tablit, a recent Konawaena graduate, has gone her own way and has decided to stay home. Despite interest from Division I schools, the 5-foot-5 point guard signed with the Vuls.

“Growing up I always told my mother (Brendie Del Rosario), I was going to move as far away as possible, play ball and pursue my dreams, and that she can’t follow me,” Tablit said. “It’s funny because she would reply, ‘Regardless of where you go, I’ll follow and move in with you.’ She said that in a joking way. But because I’m staying home I made it easier for her.

“As I got older, I began to realize that I didn’t want to leave home, and I wanted to play in front of the people I love. It gives me the best opportunity to play for the community and my family. There is no type of support that can beat the support I will have from playing at home.

“My mom has been my rock. I look up to her because of her strong sense of individuality and dedication. My stepdad Kevin Yamasaki pushed me a lot harder than others. Along with my mom, he sacrificed a lot to become a father figure to me and gave up anything to see all of us happy.”

UHH has never had someone with Tablit’s type of championship background.

Outside of preseason games, Tablit and the Wildcats have never lost a BIIF or HHSAA contest.

The few preseason games Konawaena did lose were to ranked mainland teams, stocked with Division I blue-chip players.

Konawaena’s toughest foes weren’t Maryknoll, Lahainaluna or Punahou. They were the bruisers at elite tournaments like the Title IX classic in Washington, D.C.

Those preseason battles served two purposes. She and her teammates were scouted by college coaches. Also, the Wildcats had a bull’s-eye on their back, entering with a reputation as Hawaii’s little Goliath.

“Traveling with club teams and playing for great coaches who had connections made it easier for me to showcase myself,” Tablit said. “We played in Washington, D.C. where we were ranked No. 7 in the nation.”

Tablit acknowledged that hooking up with UH-Manoa crossed her mind. But UHH coach David Kaneshiro snagged the program’s biggest high school recruit.

“I thought about playing at UH-Manoa, but coach Dave showed a lot of interest in my game, which made me push toward UHH,” Tablit said. “He always commented about my leadership and my ability to play both sides of the ball. He also admired that I played with a lot of passion and commented on the games right after I played and congratulated me on my accomplishments.”

She’ll be counted on to clean up some of UHH’s shortcomings. One soft spot was a general lack of ball-handling. The guards turned the ball over at almost the same rate as an assist or sometimes worse.

Last season for example, the Vuls’ most ballyhooed player, BYUH transfer Safia Sheikh, had 25 assists and 45 turnovers, a mediocre ratio. She averaged 12.6 points per game, but her production was negated by his giveaways.

Konawaena’s deadliest weapons have always been, in order, team chemistry, mental toughness, and ball-handling, a culture built by coach Bobbie Awa’s farm team, the Kona Stingrays club.

There have been countless times, in state championships or BIIF games, when the Wildcats lost a late lead, retained their poise and played old San Antonio Spurs basketball, making an extra pass to turn a good shot into a better one.

That’s the type of style Tablit grew up playing.

Mount Rushmore

The prototypical Wildcat Mount Rushmore great follows a certain path, and Tablit is a perfect example.

She played for HD Basketball from ages 7-10, for Na Aikane Basketball Club (ages 9-12), for the Stingrays (seventh to 12th grade), and for Team Aloha (10th and 11th grade), the travel all-star club.

Another requirement is no punching out at the time clock. There is no such thing as taking it easy. That mindset doesn’t exist.

“Basketball was year-round for me. If it wasn’t high school basketball, it was summer travel basketball and between seasons I would do offseason training,” said Tablit, who’ll major in biology and go into pharmacy.

She can fondly think about her meat grinder days at Konawaena, where a running joke was the fiercest competition was at practice.

“I started my freshman year, but week to week we fought for starting spots,” she said. “My high school teammates pushed each other every single day whether it was on or off the court.

“Without Aunty Bobbie, I wouldn’t have gained the sense of leadership and ability to adjust to things as a player if it wasn’t for her. Without Jess, I wouldn’t be the strong defensive and aggressive player I am.”

Stating a case

At the state tournament in February, Tablit led the ’Cats with seven steals in three games, difficult cherry picking because she guarded the opposition’s best ball-handler. Her skill is anticipating a ball-handler’s dribbling rhythm and jumping the route.

She is also a master tactical defender; she can play relentless on-ball defense without fouling out. Tablit had three personal fouls against Maryknoll and one each against Lahainaluna and Moanalua.

Her all-around value is best summed up in the 47-32 win over Maryknoll for Konawaena’s fourth consecutive state title.

She had 15 points on 3 of 7 shooting and hit 8 of 9 free throws. Tablit had five turnovers and no assists but had one steal and seven rebounds, despite being shorter than the Spartans.

But her strengths are the intangibles that don’t fit in a boxscore.

“I’m a talkative person so when it transfers to the court my mouth never stops moving,” Tablit said. “I’m more of a defensive player because I put up my set of points. My defense probably would set me apart from most players.

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“When I have a day where I can’t contribute points, I will most likely set my teammates up for a bucket and create.”

The Vuls, who need a whole lot of that, will welcome her with open arms.