By KEVIN JAKAHI
When Waiakea girls basketball coach Gilbert Tomas passed away on July 6, the news spread quickly through text messages and posts on Facebook.
His old Warriors remembered the life lessons Coach Gil taught on the court or reminisced about their favorite memories.
• Kalei Namohala (1988 graduate): “He taught us about sportsmanship. Against Henry O (dissolved Henry Opukahaia, BIIF school), we played Hoosiers style. We had to pass the ball five times before we shot.
“As a coach, he evolved with the game and wasn’t stuck in his ways. He was willing to make changes. I had the opportunity to coach with him in 1996-97, and he always had a calm demeanor.
“He taught us about commitment and hard work in order to be successful. You have to put in the work and dig deeper. That applies for everyday life.”
Back when Namohala played, the Warriors Gym wasn’t built until her senior year. The team practiced at Hilo Intermediate and had a water squirt drill.
The Warriors ran around the gym and had water squirted into their mouths. After the marathon runs, they had to spit the water out. If someone drank the water, the drill continued for everybody.
“When you’re a kid you’re thinking about playing for a championship,” Namohala said. “As an adult, you realize those drills served a purpose. They taught us life skills.”
• Sydnie Iranon (1986): “I played HI-PAL for him in the feeder program before I went to high school. We played everybody and all over the place. He was an awesome guy. He was always nice, and I never had a bad experience.”
Sanci Ahulau-Kaleo (1986): “One thing I remember is he was so humble. He never yelled. As angry as he got when we didn’t run a play, he never yelled.
“I’ll never forget this. I was in the eighth grade, and he told me when I come to high school I would play for him. That’s exactly what happened. I started my freshman year at point guard.”
Coach Gil’s concern for others stood out in Ahulau-Kaleo mind.
“He took care of us and was a very caring coach,” she said. “He made sure everybody had food. He always made sure it was team first.”
• Jen Kaeo (1989): “He was definitely proud and very happy for us (Kaeo and Namohala) when we played at UH and at the next level. He was a big part of that.
“He taught us to be confident and kind. He always had a positive energy and wanted us to be that way with our teammates. Being positive in general, that’s something he passed on to us.”
• Charleann (Martin) Patterson (1990): “He knew how to prepare his team. He brought in his son (Eric) and the intermediate team. You wondered why bring in an intermediate team? But we practiced against a smaller, faster team and prepared for that type of intensity.
“Another practice we had Debbie Namohala and UHH volleyball players. The next game we played against a taller team. When you look back, he prepared us for what was coming. You don’t see that as a team because you’re a kid.”
Saundi (Wilson) Pugh (1990): “One state tournament game, we were playing like crap. Everything was a mess. He came in the locker room at halftime and paced back and forth four times. He walked out, shut the door and didn’t talk to us. We came back out and played like how we’re supposed to and won.
“In my four years, we had amazing talent and super great people. We all wanted to win as a team. It was not about Jen (Kaeo) playing more or someone getting more minutes. That was set up from the top from the coach.
“As a teenager, you have no idea how many hours, time, and energy he spent for kids not his own. We were girls, too, and coaching girls there’s drama, and he put up with it. He was an amazing man.”
Sheila (Nobriga) Santos (1994): “Although I played for Coach Tomas only my junior and senior year, he had a impact on me. He taught us to play as a team. He always said, ‘One player can’t win the game, it takes all of us on the court to win’.
“We as a team believed that. He was a great coach. He always believed in us. I enjoyed playing for him.”
Krystal Nakamoto (1995): “He was a loyal, humble, and selfless man who inspired us to work hard, have fun, and be the best version of ourselves. He cheered in our successes and consoled us in our defeats, always believing in us and making sure we believed in ourselves. He was beloved by all his players. He will be forever missed but never forgotten. Thank you, coach. Your legacy will live on.”
Julyne (Kawaha) Clarke (1995): “I played for Coach Tomas for the seven best years of my life, from HI-PAL Bulls to Waiakea girls varsity. When his whistle blew, the team knew it was game time. ‘Practice like we play’ was his motto.
“He perpetuated a style of basketball culture by teaching us teamwork, discipline, hard work, leadership, dedication, modesty, laughter and most of all the love for basketball. From his coaching staff to the players, to the team’s parents, to his own family, we were one big Ohana, he was the father-figure we knew as a coach. I am so blessed to have been taught life lessons and be a part of his basketball coaching legacy.”
Twins Elena and Alana Cabatu were ballgirls in the late 1980s and played their freshman year at Waiakea before transferring to Hawaii Prep.
They played on Coach Gil’s HI-PAL Bulls team during their intermediate days and that bond between old teammates continues as well as the life lessons.
“From the start, he demanded of us young girls, respect, integrity, and basketball fundamentals,” Elena Cabatu said. “Till this day, the girls on those teams are some of our best friends and some of us still play basketball today.
“He demanded upholding good character. I thank him for bringing us all together and teaching us life’s most important lessons through playing the game of basketball.”