Louis Santos: Coached Kailua to state hoops title
Louis "Koko" Santos, one of Hawai'i's most successful and well-known basketball coaches, died early Monday morning of prostate cancer. He was 77.
Courtesy of Santos family
Louis "Koko" Santos, with wife, Rae, spent much of his life helping kids as a coach, athletic director, vice principal and counselor.
Courtesy of Santos family
"He was a great coach and a great person to work for," said Alex Kane, a former Kailua athletic director and football coach. "He always went out of his way to help you. He had a great personality, and all of the kids who played under him liked him."
Rex Santos said his father "had so many qualities. He was a real creative person."
Cal Lee, a University of Hawai'i assistant football coach and former Saint Louis School coach and athletic director, said his uncle had a knack for being "a great teacher."
In the early 1970s, when Lee accepted a job coaching Saint Louis' freshmen basketball team, he turned to Santos for help.
"I learned more in that one season from him and, lo and behold, we were undefeated," Lee said. "That was good for a guy who never coached basketball before."
Santos nicknamed "Koko" as a teenager because of his hot chocolate-colored skin lettered in five sports at McKinley before graduating in 1944.
After a stint in the Army, he went on to swim for the University of Oregon and graduated in 1952.
Santos began his teaching and coaching career at Honoka'a, guiding the Dragons to a Big Island Interscholastic Federation basketball title in 1954. One of his players at Honoka'a was Jimmy Alegre, who went on to a successful coaching career at Radford.
Santos returned to Honolulu to coach track and field at McKinley for three seasons before becoming Kailua's basketball coach in 1958. At Kailua, Santos won O'ahu Interscholastic Association titles in 1961 and 1962 before "retiring" from coaching.
He spent the next 17 years as an athletic director at Kailua (1965-67), vice principal at Kalaheo (1967-69) and outreach counselor for the Department of Education.
Santos had said he also wanted the free time to spend with his growing family. Sons Richard and Rex became three-sport athletes at Iolani and Punahou, respectively.
Santos returned to coach Kailua's basketball team in 1979 and in 1982 guided the Surfriders to OIA and state championships. One of his players, George Puou, went on to star at San Jose State and became a college assistant at St. Mary's (Calif.).
Santos left Kailua in 1983 to start Hawai'i Loa's basketball program and coached there until his retirement in 1989.
Rex Santos said his father, who played golf three times a week, was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years ago.
"He didn't want people to worry about him," Rex said. "He said he didn't want to be a burden. He kept it to himself. He was coping with it really well until September. I know he was hiding a lot of pain."
Still, Rex said his father remained upbeat, entertaining friends and family with his quick wit and amusing stories.
"Whenever we got together toward the end with our families, it always seemed the attention would go his way," Rex said.
In addition to Richard and Rex, Santos is survived by his wife, Rae; daughter, Rayette; sister, Hazel Lee, and six grandchildren.
A service is pending.