If it seems like Clay Cockett has been coaching since the beginning of time, it’s probably because he practically has.
The Kamehameha girls basketball coach retired yesterday after 14 years and three state titles. Before that, he assisted his friend, Al Apo, going back another decade, with four state championship teams.
"It’s been a long, long time, but it’s the right time," Cockett said. "I’m looking forward to spending time with my granddaughters."
His granddaughters are 8 and 3.
"Coach Clay has always been a great guy, a great competitor," Punahou coach Mike Taylor said. "He had some great runs. When I was at Maryknoll in ’99, 2000, those (Kamehameha) kids were fundamentally sound, so talented. He kept things simple and highly effective. He’s a nice guy, very soft spoken. When he spoke up, you listened."
Cockett, 65, guided the Warriors to state titles in 1999, 2000 and ’02.
Cockett’s team was 4-9 in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (6-11 overall) this season, losing to Mid-Pacific in the playoffs. A young group, which includes 6-foot freshman Alohi Robins-Hardy, will return next season. The team was ranked No. 4 early in the season, but gradually dropped lower after close losses.
The season itself, Cockett said, wasn’t easy.
"It’s been hard with all the construction," he said of ongoing projects on campus.
But another factor that made coaching less enjoyable was the switch of girls basketball season from the spring to the winter three years ago. That created competition for gym time between boys and girls varsity, JV and intermediate teams.
"I’d prefer they went back to separate seasons," Cockett said.
Never one to hesitate, Cockett says his favorite players were Megan Ching and Kea Kimball. Ching was the multi-position leader of the ’02 championship squad, while Kimball led that ’99 squad.
"Because they were old school. They did what was necessary," he said. "Players are different now. There’s a lot of influences."
It’s harder now, he added, to find players who will play basketball year-round. With the intense competition within the ILH, finding a new coach to inspire that kind of one-sport devotion isn’t easy.
"I’m not going to recommend anybody, but I’m sure a lot of people want to coach."
After a career of coaching the game, Cockett says there’s difference between coaching boys and girls.
"With boys, the game comes more naturally and they’re competitive. With girls, you deal a lot more with emotions," he said. "I probably would be more myself with boys."