Sports

Hammerheads Give Wong Next Basketball Opportunity

May 11, 2016, 2:35 PM HST
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Aukai Wong during his 2010-2011 season at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo. UH-Hilo file photo.

Aukai Wong during his 2010-2011 season at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. UH-Hilo file photo.

Last year, Aukai Wong seemed to be on his way to restarting his basketball career during tryouts with the Toronto Raptors’ D-League team, the Raptors 905.

Wong’s name wasn’t picked to move past tryouts, however, and the Hilo basketball standout didn’t get his name called in the D-League draft.

Patience usually pays off, though, and Wong’s chance to play at a higher level has come with the new Hawai’i Hammerheads, a new team that announced earlier this month that it would join the American Basketball Association, a major league basketball league with close to 100 teams spread throughout the country.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to play at the pro level. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to represent Hawai’i in the ABA,” said Wong in a text to Big Island Now.

This isn’t Hawai’i’s first venture into ABA basketball. The Hawai’i Mega Force was shut down after two games in 2005, and two years later, bad business practices halted the Hawai’i Hurricanes before they could even play a game. A new ownership group tried to get the team going under a new name, the Pacific Rim Rockers, but once again, no games were ever played by the team.

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Hawai’i also hosted a team in the American Basketball League, the Hawai’i Chiefs, during the 1961-1962 season.

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“We really did get a lot from the locals on what went wrong with those,” said Kevin Williams, the Hammerheads’ president. “We know our process in putting together our basketball team and our staff, and the research we’ve done here, we feel like we’ve got the staff and we’ve got the basketball team to stay for a long time.”

Things are a lot more optimistic for the team’s chances to survive this time around, led by Williams, a former collegiate basketball player. NES Sports LLC owns the team, backed by several Hawai’i-based investors. Additionally, Laredo Swarm owners Marlon Minifee and Lamar Stephens will act as special advisors to the team.

Wong has stayed in the sport since leaving the University of Hawai’i at Hilo in 2011, wrapping up a collegiate career that included stops at Warner Pacific College and Carl Albert State University. The 2005 Hilo High School graduate has impressed at the Manoa Summer league on Oahu, where he has played with current and former collegiate basketball players.

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Additionally, Wong has been a junior varsity coach at Hilo High School, and has helped with camps to better young basketball players. He even started a facebook page called “Hawai’i Hardwood” to promote the game of basketball at all levels on the Big Island.

“This is huge for Hawai’i. This is big for my family, not just my wife and kids, but for my basketball family here on the Big Island,” Wong said.

Wong’s popularity on the island isn’t lost on Williams, who told Big Island Now on Tuesday that he is looking into bringing the Hammerheads to the Big Island for a series of games later in the 2016-2017 season. Along with the games, he also hopes to engage his team’s players at high school events and other aspects of the community.

A weekend series of games could be played at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in either January or March, Williams said.

Joining Wong on the Hammerheads roster is former University of Hawai’i standout Geremy Robinson and former prepster Kona Makaula of Academy of the Pacific. Another former UH player, Pi’i Mins, is on the roster, along with Hawai’i Pacific University graduate Joel Feigler.

The Hammerheads’ first scheduled series of games is at the Louisiana Cajun Classic on Saturday, Nov. 26 and Sunday, Nov. 27, where the Hawai’i hoopsters will face the Louisiana Cajun All-Stars and the Shreveport Flight.

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