Brandyn Akana has fought many battles in War Memorial Gym.
Nearly 20 years after graduating from Molokai High School, Akana will re-enter the venerable old building in Wailuku - where every big basketball game on the Valley Isle used to be played - as a member of the University of Hawaii coaching staff on Sunday night for the Rainbow Warriors' game against North Carolina A&T. Tipoff is 5 p.m.
"I'll still be wearing green and white," Akana said.
Brandyn Akana is in his second season as an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors face North Carolina A&T on Sunday night at War Memorial Gym. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.
University of Hawaii photo
Akana is in his second season as an assistant to Hawaii coach Gib Arnold and is UH's recruiting coordinator in addition to his bench duties.
His ties to UH run deep as his big brother, Jarrin Akana, went from being the state player of the year for the Farmers in 1988 to BYU-Hawaii to UH, where he played from 1992-94. Brandyn Akana's wife, the former Joselyn Robins, played for Hawaii from 1993-96.
"I have close ties to UH, so it was always something that I thought in the future, when I was in college and when I was at BYU-Hawaii, I kind of wanted to get an opportunity to coach at this level," Akana said. "It was the year before last when Gib was looking at the job to come here when he contacted me, told me, 'Hey, I'm interested in the job, if you had an opportunity, would you take it?'
"He knew I was in a pretty good situation at BYU-Hawaii, where I was next in line to be head coach and all of that. He just said, 'It would be good for Hawaii to have you there' and then he gave me the whole song and dance about how he looks to improve the program. Once I talked to him, I told him, 'Hey, that does interest me a lot.' After the interview, I just knew it would be a great fit for me."
Arnold knew of Brandyn Akana through Jarrin Akana, who has moved from his NBA career - he was an assistant coach for Milwaukee, Dallas, Denver and New Jersey - and is now a sports agent in Los Angeles for a large firm that handles about 60 players, including the likes of Dwight Howard, John Wall and Nene.
Brandyn Akana is right where he wants to be. After graduating from BYUH in 1999 with a degree in exercise and sports science, he earned his master's in kinesiology and leisure science from UH in 2001.
"It has been great, this is just what I needed, I needed some experience," he said. "Gib is a great coach with a lot of coaching experience, which I have the opportunity now to draw from. ... I am growing as a young coach and that was the whole goal for me."
He is the first in his 10-sibling family to earn a master's.
"If you asked my parents which one of their kids was going to get their graduate's degree, my name would be the last one," he said.
Arnold said he made the right choice in Akana.
"I think he is extremely valuable for us," Arnold said. "One, he is a great coach, he is a great young coach, he brings a lot of energy to the staff, he has done a heck of a job. I have moved him up to our recruiting coordinator after one year and he has done a great job at that. He is extremely organized and he is one of Hawaii's own, so that is extremely important.
"When I interviewed him, he stood out. I wanted to hire a guy with great passion for basketball, great passion for the state of Hawaii and he had both of those. To me, it was a no-brainer."
Leaving BYUH, where Akana was an honorable mention NAIA All-American as a senior before coaching there for 10 years, was difficult.
"It wasn't easy, but I knew for me to get to where I want to be, I had to take this big step," Akana said. "I wanted to take that step, so here I am."
Coming back to the Valley Isle in this position would have been almost impossible for him to imagine as a youngster in Kaunakakai.
"Not even close, not in my wildest dreams, I never thought, first of all, that I would be coaching at the collegiate level," he said. "I had goals when I was young, I wanted to be around basketball, I thought high school, but then I had the opportunity to take it to the next level, to the university level, and now I am at the top of the university level in the biggest school in Hawaii, which is my home. It is definitely a dream come true and I am just soaking it in, learning as much as I can."
Brandyn Akana, 37, said he talks to Jarrin, 41, "every day, sometimes twice a day." Younger brother Trenson Akana, a member of a BYUH team that reached No. 1 in the nation at the NCAA Division II level, recently graduated from UH with his master's degree.
Akana will be happy to arrive on Maui today.
"Maui is a special place for me, Maui is like my second home," he said. "I spent a lot of time on Maui, playing volleyball and basketball. I had a lot of battles in that gym. We played Baldwin at War Memorial and it was always a battle. Walking into War Memorial is going to be a very familiar place for me. It has been business there for me, whether it be against (former Baldwin coach) Jon Garcia or against North Carolina A&T, it is going to be business and it is going be a very comfortable feeling for me."
UH players will hold a free autograph session for fans after the game, which is the Rainbow Warriors' second on Maui in the past 12 months. Hawaii defeated Chicago State 86-57 at Lahaina Civic Center a year ago today.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org