VIRGINIA CITY — Yes, the Lahainaluna High School boys basketball program has gained success on the court. But more important, the student-athletes have learned lessons for success in life as well.
For the past several years the Westside Hoops Maui club team consisting mostly of players who play for Lahainaluna High on the Maui island of Hawaii have been coming to Northern Nevada for the summer.
“It teaches us how to be mature,” said Kaalalani Kaaikala Thursday. He will be a senior at Lahainaluna this coming school year. “The experience has helped us grow up on and off the court. We just grow together, It’s a great feeling.”
The genesis of the Westside Hoops Club coming to Northern Nevada began eight years ago when Dan Williams met Virginia City High boys basketball coach Tom Maurer, one of Northern Nevada’s most accomplished high school coaches. Maurer coached Galena High School to numerous regional titles and state tournament appearances, including a state title in 2007 and led Virginia City to a regional title and state tournament appearance this past season.
Maurer worked with Williams’ son, Luke Williams, who has gone on to play basketball at Penn State Fayette where he will be a senior this upcoming season. Williams also was the Maui Player of the Year.
And Williams will be joined by another player from Lahainaluna, Marvin Sidon, a 5-4 point guard, who will play a Penn State Fayette as a freshman next season.
Despite his height, Sidon said he believed he could play college basketball, adding in part that belief came from his trips to Northern Nevada.
“It was a dream come true,” Sidon said. “I feel like all the hard work paid off for me.” Williams said the Westside Hoops Maui’s trip to Northern Nevada is done in a way that tries to show what a college semester would be like. He said he part of the trip’s goal is “getting our kids ready for college, not that everybody needs to go to college.”
For many of the students-athletes, their trip to Northern Nevada is their first off the islands to the mainland. Williams said it’s been difficult for many students from Maui to go away from the island to go to college, but the club’s experience in Northern Nevada has helped and Sidon agreed.
“Being away from home for two months is key,” said Sidon about the club coming to Northern Nevada. “Being surrounded by people who love the game, it makes it comfortable for me.”
And Sidon said the level of play he faced in Nevada and Northern California helped him gain confidence he could play in college.
“They’ve got way better athletes here than in Hawaii,” he said.
Even tough Sidon has graduated from Lahainaluna, he came back to Northern Nevada for a third straight summer to help the younger players and show them “what it takes to get to that other level,” referring to college.
The Westside club has been here since mid-June and is spending eight weeks in Northern Nevada through the end of July. Dan Williams said 14 high school players and six middle school players have made the trip.
The middle school players have been working with another one of Northern Nevada’s well-respected coaches, Bill Ballinger of the Reno Ballers.
“I think we’ve got the two best guys for teaching basketball,” said Dan Williams about Maurer and Ballinger. “They really get into the nitty, gritty,”
The club typically goes through three-a-day workouts, beginning with 2 1/2 hours in the morning. The players also work out at Fitness for $10 in Carson City for two hours and then for three hours they work out at Virginia City High.
“The kids get a lot of basketball,” Dan Williams said.
Families from Carson City’s Calvary Christian Center host the students, which is a rewarding experience said one of the hosts, Jeff Love. “The boys are extremely respectful,” Love said.
Carson City’s Capital Christian Center also has donated a van providing for the club’s transportation while it’s here.
While the club is here it plays 70 games in Northern California.
The summer experience in Northern Nevada has paid off as Lahainaluna went 27-3 and finished fifth in the state last season, its best finish since 1953. Lahainaluna, founded in 1831, is the oldest school west of the Rockies.
Dan Williams said along with Sidon, there are three other players from last year’s team who are going to have a chance to play in college.
But Williams added, “it’s not about the wins and losses. It’s about building character.”
Hopes, though, are obviously high this coming season. Kaaikala, making his third trip to Northern Nevada, didn’t specifically answer the question when he was asked if Lahainaluna can win a state title this season, but he did say, “I have confidence in my team. They’re like family. When you’re with family, you can do anything.”
Jeremi Santos, who played on last year’s fifth place finishing team as a sophomore, made it clear he wanted to improve on that finish when he said about taking fifth, “I’m not satisfied with that.”
“It helps a lot,” Santos also said about the trip. “Character, mental toughness, everything. It builds team chemistry.”
Lahainaluna head coach Jason Justus, referring to the trip’s contribution to his team’s fifth place finish last year, called it “priceless” and “invaluable.”
Justus said the fundamentals his team learns during the summer “rocket ships our season” because he doesn’t have to spend nearly as much time on those fundamentals when the season begins.
“What Tom has done with these kids is unbelievable,” he said.