Li‘ili‘i emerges as leader for Knights
by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer
Quiet and steady in the paint, Leisha Li'ili'i's offensive explosion has helped Castle's turnaround.
The 5-foot-10 junior forward has emerged as another dimension for the Knights this season, and she posted two double-doubles last week to help her girls basketball team win a pair of O'ahu Interscholastic Association Red East games.
Li'ili'i had 26 points and 13 rebounds in a win at Kalani and had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Kailua. After failing to make the playoffs last year, the Knights are 5-4 in league play this year.
"We needed someone to take the lead," Castle coach Jeff McKeown said. "Everything was going to our point guard (last year). This year, our point guard is scoring and Leisha is scoring."
Castle struggled offensively against Kailua, and trailed 21-19 at halftime. Li'ili'i had just five points in the first half.
"Kailua did a lot of things early in that game to take our inside game away," McKeown said. "We made adjustments at halftime, we wanted to get the ball inside."
The Knights found Li'ili'i inside, and she scored 16 of her game-high 21 points in the second half.
"She flashed hard in the paint to get the ball, and had a few offensive rebound putbacks as well," McKeown said.
The Knights had a difficult transition in their move from the White Conference to the Red last season, especially after graduating a big senior class. They didn't qualify for the league playoffs, and one of their goals for this season was to make the postseason. With the way things have been going so far — Castle had close losses to Red East leaders Farrington and Roosevelt — the Knights have amended that goal to securing the East's third seed for the playoffs.
Li'ili'i's emergence on the floor and her consistency has played a big part in the Knights' season. She's handling the physical play better than last season, and McKeown said she's athletic and has good hands and speed. She's also an all-league first baseman in softball.
"Leisha is a real calm person, she doesn't get excited or rattled," McKeown said. "She's more of a calming influence. When things go really poorly, she doesn't hang her head. She's really steady and the girls see that and think things will be OK."