Justus steps down from Lunas’ hoop helm

Recently married head coach says it’s time to move on

Lahaina- luna High School boys basketball coach Jason Justus is shown here in a game during 2015. He guided the Lunas to five MIL titles. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER file photo

Jason Justus, arguably the most successful boys basketball coach in school history, stepped down from his post as head coach at Lahainaluna High School on Monday.

Justus leaves with five Maui Interscholastic League Division I titles in his five seasons as Lunas’ coach. His teams were 69-1 in MIL play, including the last 52 straight.

He and Rachel Kane-Justus, one of his assistant coaches, got married in May.

“We want to start looking to concentrate on our own lives a little bit even though coaching is something that we both love dearly,” Jason Justus said. “(Assistant coaches) Kalei (Houpo), Freddie Baisa, Alec (Austin), Rachel and myself, we all sat down and had a long conversation, over a long amount of time, many meetings, and it ended up just being a good time to step away and just kind of concentrate on other things in our lives. . . . We’re excited in our next chapter in our lives together.”

Justus informed Lahainaluna Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch of his decision on Monday.

“He’s not only a great coach, he’s a great teacher,” Soldwisch said. “He taught not only the game, he taught his kids about life. He was really serious about developing them as young men, not just basketball players. He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Justus also will keep a special place in his heart for the West Maui community and Luna Nation.

“I already miss everything,” Justus said. “We’ve been slowly trying to disconnect ourselves from the program, and we already miss it. It’s just the way that you’re kind of built — this way of life for five, six years and you’re kind of accustomed to it. The competitiveness, trying to get our boys prepared is something that we all love as coaches.”

Justus said the decision was not easy.

“I think that we could still do it,” he said. “It’s just that our passion to get it as good as we can, . . . we don’t have the passion as we did before. And if we’re not all in, then I just don’t think that we’d be very successful and that’s unfair to the boys.”

As he departs, Justus said “there’s so many people that we want to thank.”

“First, the training staff — Lahainaluna has had the best training staff, I believe, on the island,” he continued. “The administration and the community, of course, have been unbelievable in showing the support of the girls program, nonetheless, and then be able to stay for the boys program and given us the support that I believe that we’ve earned over the last five years.”

The Lunas boys have piled up MIL wins, but Justus admitted it is still short of the girls program that has an all-sport MIL winning streak record of 162 straight games that dates back nearly 12 full seasons. Justus is proud that his program has induced Lunas’ fans to stay for the nightcaps on doubleheader evenings.

“They’ve stayed and watched our games, how much and how hard our boys have played,” he said. “They leave everything on the court, not only for themselves but also for the community and that’s something special.”

Justus said there are numerous memories, including his first season in 2014-15.

“Every year is special,” he said. “I’ve got to say it’s been unbelievable, the first year with Josh Chapital, Marvin Sidon and all those guys. I went through that year and wished that I had more time with them, but I believe that we as a coaching staff imprinted a little bit on them what kind of style and hard work.

“I believe we took the program to another level, to a different direction, where hard-nose defense is a vital necessity.”

The Lunas’ third-place team at state in 2017 matched the 1957 team for the best finish in school history at the Division I level. The 1982 team won the small-school Division A state crown.

“That was an outstanding year with Carver Locke and Jeremi Santos and Tavake Faleta where those guys grew up,” Justus said. “Even last year when we graduated the beasts with Koa Robinson and Iverson (Turno) and Isaiah Tanner and C.J. Palma and Aukai Kama. We graduated that whole crew of eight seniors, and we came back, and we were still as successful as we were with pretty much two lone seniors with Hunter Higdon and Reece Pascua. I can’t say enough about Reece.”

Justus, 44, played collegiately at Iowa State — his Cyclone team beat Kansas 56-55 for the final Big Eight Conference title in 1996 — and North Dakota State and was a longtime referee in the MIL before becoming the Lunas coach.

He said his days as an MIL ref could be revived.

“I have a feeling that I’m going to be asked,” Justus said with a laugh. “But I’m not exactly sure. One thing I will say is I definitely do not want to referee a Lahainaluna game.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias @mauinews.com.