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Kermet Apio's Laugh Corner

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May 2008


Low & Long Shorts


Recently the college basketball career of Iolani School graduate Derek Low came to an end and an impressive one it was. He is one of the best players ever to attend Washington State University. Of course, that’s like saying Hulk Hogan is the best chess player of all the professional wrestlers (sorry, it’s too hard for a Husky to NOT make a Cougar joke). Low is not only an athletic talent but a great student and person as well. As a fellow Iolani graduate I can almost claim one of those three.

There aren’t many successful comparisons between Derek Low and myself. We went to the same high school and are both the same height (6’2”). That’s it. Weight is a very different story. Derek would have to hold a Butterball turkey and a Costco sack of rice to even approach my battle with gravity. But I like to think that I had something to do with his success. Not me individually but those of us who played hoops at Iolani in 1983-84.

In 1983 the first Iolani Classic basketball tournament was held at the school gym. Coach Glenn Young’s idea was to bring some of the best mainland teams to the islands to help Hawaii schools realize just how bad we were. Things were very different then. We wore leather helmets. The ball was made of a coconut shell and taro paste. Basically I’m saying it was long time ago. Back when our shorts were WAY too short. They were essentially boxer briefs with side stripes. Not a good look for a lanky 6’2” kid with low self-esteem. Yes I was, at one point, skinny. I know, since then I have gained the equivalent of an Olsen twin.

Our first game of the tournament was against the West Philly Speedboys, a talented team from inner city Philadelphia who looked less like a group of high school kids and more like the buildings of downtown. They came out for warm-ups single file while doing a chant/dance thing that looked like a boot camp march led by the Harlem Gospel Choir. It was incredibly entertaining, unless you were the team about to play them. To make things exciting for the fans Coach Young waived the rule prohibiting dunking in warm-ups. Most of us in Hawaii didn’t know this rule existed, for the same reason I don’t know anything about capital gains tax. Actually I could dunk, but not like you see on ESPN. My dunks were more like something you’d see on CSPAN. The Speedboys put on a show. They crowd was going wild. We could have taken off our short shorts for lay-ups and no one would have noticed. A teammate of mine said, “You should dunk.” That’s like saying “Hey, Eddie Van Halen is here. You should play ‘Tiny Bubbles’ on your uke.”

Back then being 6’2” tall in Hawaii automatically made you a center. Being 6’2” and barely coordinated made you a 2nd string center. In perspective, their point guard was 6’2” and could do spinning dunks behind his head while sipping coffee with his free hand. The rest of the team called him “Shorty.” The game was a lesson in humiliation. At one point our score was –4. We owed them two baskets. We were like the team that always played the Globetrotters, except they got paid.

Coach wanted us all to experience the carnage so in the 2nd quarter I was called into the game. I entered what felt like a forest and found the man I would guard (I use the word “guard” but the more accurate word is “follow”). He was 6’10” Henry Smith and he looked like he had a butterball turkey and a sack of rice stuffed in his shoulders. If I remember right he either spent some time in the NBA or as a brick wall holding back floodwaters. At one point he stole the ball and as he made a beeline for the basket I stood in to take the charge. The fact that I would stand in front of a barreling locomotive shows that either I would do anything to help my team or I wasn’t a very good decision maker. I planted my feet, put my hands in front of my face and quietly said goodbye to family and friends. He jumped up right in front of me, slammed the ball into the hoop, and came down without ever touching me. I didn’t see the dunk but I remember the roar of the home crowd, who at that point were cheering more for dunks than for us. And I remember being happy to have survived.

Our scoreboard had only two digits for scores, meaning that the highest score it could display was 99. This was never an issue until that day. If the game had gone a few minutes longer, it would have looked like we were beating them 24-1. And believe me, I think we had 24 purely out of the kindness and generosity of West Philly.

The tournament ended with St Bernard (CA) beating West Philly in the final in a very exciting game. The tournament gave inner city kids a chance to see Hawaii and Hawaii kids a chance to see high-level basketball. It has become a huge annual event. In later years Iolani has had tough last second losses to Dunbar (MD) and Fairfax (CA), two national powerhouses. But if not for the horrifying losses of yester-year, none of this would have happened. Now Hawaii schools are more competitive and have longer shorts. You’re welcome, Derek Low. You’re welcome.

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