Catching up with the Akanas
Brothers reflect on days growing up in Maui County, their basketball careers
PUKALANI — As they stood in a gym that wasn’t even built when they helped usher Molokai High School into the Maui Interscholastic League, the Akana brothers pondered the beginning of their impressive basketball lives.
“I’ve always wanted to come back, Maui’s been like my second home, and I basically grew up here, played against a lot of great players from this area,” Brandyn Akana said Friday between games in the King Kekaulike Tournament as the Kahuku team he coaches relaxed in the wrestling room. “I love the MIL, so this is a great opportunity to bring a team that I’ve been coaching now to the MIL and be in a tournament.”
Brandyn Akana followed the storied career of older brother Jarinn for the Farmers. Jarinn Akana was the state player of the year in his senior season in 1988, while Brandyn led Molokai to the 1992 MIL title in his senior season.
Molokai and Lanai joined the MIL in the fall of 1984, when Jarinn Akana was beginning his freshman year on the Hoolehua campus.
“You know when you have a feeling that you don’t forget, that’s always been good?” Jarinn Akana said. “That’s the feeling I have today. This is kind of where everything started for us. The MIL has always been like home. We spent a lot of time on Maui growing up.
“The feeling is good, it’s like coming back home.”
Jarinn Akana played one season for Brigham Young University Hawaii before going on a two-year Mormon mission to Chile — he finished his college career at the University of Hawaii in 1994.
He is now an agent for NBA players through Dynasty Sports Management — his most significant client is DeMarcus Cousins.
While coaching at BYUH, with the help of longtime coach Merv Lopes — “who’s like an uncle to me,” Jarinn Akana said — Akana got to work at Pete Newell’s big man camp in Honolulu.
After meeting Kiki Vandeweghe there, Akana was hired by Vandeweghe as a player development coach for the Dallas Mavericks. When Vandeweghe became general manager in Denver, Akana came along and spent six seasons in the Nuggets’ front office before two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.
For the last 11 years, he has been an NBA agent — he currently has eight clients.
When the brothers find time to spend together — Friday was a one-day intersection of their busy schedules — the first subject to come up is basketball. Jarinn Akana is now based in Los Angeles.
“Basketball is always an important part of our lives,” Jarinn Akana said. “So we’ll talk basketball and now with his team, we’ll talk about his team and who he has, what he’s running, what he’s doing. I will give him some advice, what I think, and he takes what he thinks is good.
“We talk a lot of basketball, a lot about our family, a lot about Molokai growing up.”
The courts in Kaunakakai still ring with the legendary battles between the Akana brothers growing up.
“I used to beat up on him,” said Jarinn Akana, 47. “I used to practice all my moves and it used to work. … Brandyn made a name for himself.
“He played, and I think he had a lot of pressure. You know, ‘Jarinn did this.’ He stepped up and had a hell of a career in high school and in college he did really well. And now in his coaching career, he’s doing well. I’m very proud of him, he’s done well at every level. I look for more to come, bigger things for him.”
Brandyn Akana, 43, was an assistant coach for the University of Hawaii for five years. He graduated from BYUH in 1998 and earned a master’s degree from Hawaii in exercise/sports science. He was an assistant under Ken Wagner at BYUH for 11 years — he is currently the intramural sports coordinator on the Laie campus.
He was let go from the staff at Manoa along with head coach Gib Arnold in October 2014 amid allegations that led to a loss of scholarships and NCAA probation. Brandyn Akana said his goal is to get back to college coaching.
“There was a lot of moving parts,” Brandyn Akana said. “It’s unfortunate that it had to end that way. I love the University of Hawaii. My wife (formerly Jocelyn Robbins) played there, my older brother played there. I spent a lot of time there for grad school. I had to move on, that was the case, and I think I’ve kind of picked up and done well.”
Brandyn Akana still marvels at what his brother was able to do at Molokai High School.
“That tells you what the MIL did for us, especially for him,” Brandyn Akana said. “It prepared him to be who he is today. He had an awesome career from the island of Molokai. That should tell kids in the MIL, kids on Lanai, Hana, even Molokai that it can be done and it has been done.”
The brothers’ basketball camp for Molokai youths will mark its fourth run in April.
“A lot of the kids don’t know what transpired many moons ago, but it was serious business,” Jarinn Akana said. “The island at the time would come and watch the games. We would compete against the top guys. Nowadays they don’t know that, but when you tell them they go, ‘Oh, wow, OK.’
“The biggest thing is giving back and being able to hopefully inspire some of these young kids to do something, too. Listen, if I can do it, you certainly can, too.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org.