There is skill and talent.
Then there is soul. When Faasausau Lefotu begins to sing at home, it isn’t long before her granddaughters join in.
“We hang out with our family. We like to sing with our grandma,” Jovi Lefotu said. “She’s the best.”
“She’s in the church choir,” older sister Lily Wahinekapu said.
With Grandma, there’s improv in the house.
“Sometimes we make up our own songs,” said Jovi, a sophomore.
“She sings in Samoan. We don’t understand Samoan,” said Lily, a junior.
Jovi knows where her family sits when they attend ‘Iolani basketball games. But she doesn’t have to see them to know where they are.
“(Grandma) was at the game today. She was screaming,” she said.
“She always wears a muumuu. A brown muumuu,” Lily said. “We have our own Samoan song that we sing with her. It’s a catchy song.”
Top-ranked ‘Iolani (9-0), the defending state champion in girls basketball, hasn’t lost a step. Coach Dean Young has a squad that is older, wiser, stronger and faster.
Lily Lefotu Wahinekapu was a force from Day 1 as a freshman. Now a junior, she is the highest-ranked returnee in the state. Wahinekapu was No. 4 in the Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 last season, averaging 15 points per game as a sophomore. She’s a combo guard who blocks shots, rebounds and can trigger fast breaks as well as finish them.
Younger sister Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu is a sophomore, a major addition to ‘Iolani’s defense. Think point forward, who is a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 depending on the need and situation. She led the Raiders with 18 points in a 41-32 win over Punahou on Saturday to open the regular season.
The pause lingers, punctuated by a question, the same one that sisters Lily and Jovi have always anticipated. Why do you have different last names? It goes back to their mother, former Kailua hoopster Dawn Wahinekapu, sister of former Kalaheo hoopster Sharon Wahinekapu.
“My mom only has sisters, and so they wanted someone to pass on the family name, so they gave it to me,” said Lily, the oldest child.
“They flipped a coin,” Jovi added.
“Yeah, they flipped a coin. My mom was heads and my dad (Maea) was tails,” Lily confirmed.
There’s no confusion within the family, of course, though Jovi has one minor pet peeve.
“Sometimes, they call me Lily. I don’t like that,” Jovi said.
Kahuku coach Latoya Wily was a young player when she and sister Artevia Wily saw Sharon Wahinekapu, Lily and Jovi’s auntie, play point guard for Kalaheo.
“Just like her they are fun to watch,” Wily said. “I know this is going to sound contradicting, but they are relentless yet very humble on the court. They never stop.”
Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa has coached her daughter, nieces and a slew of players who had siblings as teammates.
“Like the Molinas (Chanelle, Celena, Cherilyn), they have the potential to play at a high-level college program after high school. Their basketball strength is their IQ. Lots of players play the game, but do not always understand the game. I believe Lily and Jovi understand the game of basketball,” said Awa, who has led the Wildcats to nine state crowns. “The true strength of Lily and Jovi is that they are respectful, kind-hearted, compassionate, eager to learn, competitive and truly love playing the game.”
Kamehameha awaits ‘Iolani today in an early rematch of last year’s state final. The Warriors lost player of the year Kalina Obrey to graduation, but return a stacked team. So does ‘Iolani.
“We just have to play how we play. Play our game,” Wahinekapu said.
“Defense first,” Lefotu added. “Start strong. We always tend to not start strong and picking ourselves up at halftime.”
In a perfect world, which would a championship-seeking coach prefer: A. A roster of 12 elite scorers, including two lockdown defenders, or B. A roster of 12 lockdown defenders, including two elite scorers.
Maybe neither scenario is close to perfect, but in the world of One Team, there’s an added variable: C. A roster of nine lockdown defenders, who all can run the floor and execute a seemingly perpetual motion offense. Every Raider is able to drive and kick, drive and draw fouls.
The new-look Raiders aren’t very different from the 2018-19 state-title team. What they are now in the 2019-20 campaign is the accumulation of hours in the weight room.
“We were there in the summer time. We still do it now,” Lefotu said. “More explosive (lifts).”
The sisters are noticeably stronger.
“I say for her, she’s 70% (stronger),” Wahinekapu said of Lefotu. “You were, like, skinny, but now…”
“I’d say she’s 65% (stronger),” Lefotu said of Wahinekapu.
The Raiders are at a robust roster size — by their standards — for the first time. They played with seven, at times, while Alexsandra Huntimer (groin) and Kylie Yung (back) recovered. Wahinekapu, Yung and Alexis Huntimer (No. 13 All-State Fab 15) are all-defensive team returnees. Sharpshooter Kyra Tanabe keeps defenses honest.
Each of them now possesses something new: a consistent ability to attack the rim and draw fouls. Young thinks back to decades of talented Raiders.
“Lily is very competitive like BJ Itoman, but she reminds me most of Teddi Pila as a shooting guard. Jovi reminds me most of Alex Masaquel with her size and athleticism and how she’s developed her outside shot to expand her game,” he said.
The ride home after every school day, every game has become routine. The bar is high. Iron sharpens iron.
“Our dad says, ‘We’re your biggest critics, but your No. 1 fans,’ ” Wahinekapu said. “It’s true.”
LILY WAHINEKAPU AND JOVI LEFOTU
‘Iolani basketball, volleyball
Q&A / Favorites
Lily: “We like to go to the beach and we play volleyball.” Jovi: “Hang out with our family. We like to sing with our grandma. She’s the best.”
Lily: “My favorite movie is ‘Whale Rider.’ ”
Jovi: “Mine is ‘Love and Basketball.’ ”
>> What mom (Dawn) says that you can’t forget?
Lily: “She says do what makes you happy. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. We were choosing between basketball and soccer. This was in sixth grade, before we entered middle school.”
Jovi: “We play volleyball for school, too.”
Lily: “There’s different things that volleyball uses, things that help with basketball like jumping and stuff.”
>> What dad (Maea) says that you can’t forget?
Jovi: “Think of the positives in any situation.”
Lily: “He also says, ‘We’re your biggest critics, but your No. 1 fans.’ It’s true.”
>> What your coaches say?
Jovi: “Trust the process. There’s going to be pain in the process, but that’s going to get you to where you want to be. Our intermediate school coach, Ed Gelacio (of Holy Family Academy), said that.”
Lily: “It’s good to believe Coach Ed. It’s good energy over there, a basketball community. You can just play with anybody over there. It’s fun. Coach Ed plays, too, sometimes pickup games. They make it fun. You love the game more. You love the game because of that.”