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Kaluna and Harris: The rare pair

West Ranch’s Ako Kaluna and Kevin Harris might be the SCV’s best duo ever

Posted: January 8, 2013 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 8, 2013 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch senior Ako Kaluna, a 6-foot-7-inch, 275-pound forward/center, and 6-foot-1-inch lanky guard Kevin Harris were each All-Santa Clarita Valley first-teamers in 2012. They are a major reason why West Ranch is a Foothill title favorite in 2013.

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It’s not as if it’s random chance that all the pieces have fallen in place for West Ranch basketball.

The Wildcats field two of the best players in the Foothill League in seniors Ako Kaluna and Kevin Harris, who have been playing ball together for five years.

The two of them make up one of the best two-player boys basketball combinations the Santa Clarita Valley has ever seen.

That distinction is debatable.

But the undisputable fact about Kaluna and Harris is how unique it is to see two very different, yet equally talented players show up on the same high school team at the same time.

“I don’t really think you could compare me and Kevin to any other big players (from the past) because no one really complements each other like me and Kevin,” Kaluna says. “Everybody is just a guard-guard. It’s never a guard and big.”

Indeed, West Ranch possesses a dominant big man in Kaluna and a shooter/slasher guard in Harris.

The 6-foot-7 Kaluna is entering his fourth year on varsity and his skills have improved as time has gone on.

Last year, he was an All-SCV first-teamer and an All-CIF player after averaging 16.1 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

Harris, at 6-foot-1, is a third-year varsity player who experienced a breakout season last year. He scored 17.2 points a game and shot 59 percent from three-point land on his way to also being named to the All-SCV first team.

But that was last year, and now, the two former teammates on an eighth-grade travel team are now playing at an even higher level.

“We’ve always had a bond that I’ve never really had with any other player,” Harris says of his teammate. “And we knew that we’d have a future in basketball together.”

That future may very well include one of historic proportions.

“I’m obviously biased, but there isn’t a better duo (in SCV history),” says West Ranch head coach Shant Bicakci “With guards, on bad shooting days, you can deny and stuff like that. ... They’re so multi-dimensional.”

Bicakci should know something about great basketball combinations in this valley. He was a part of a stellar one himself alongside guard Neil Diorio when both were seniors for the 2004-05 Saugus team.

That season, Diorio and Bicakci collectively averaged 26.6 points, 3.7 steals and 5.5 assist per game.

The year before, Diorio averaged 13.7 points as a junior on the same team as B.J. Willkomm, who was a 6-foot-7 center that put up 18.1 point a game.

Willkomm still stands as Saugus’ all-time career leading scorer.

“The thing I love about basketball is it’s a team game and at some point everybody touches the ball,” said Jeff Hallman, who coached that year’s Saugus team. “Everybody has to defend, but then if you have two really skilled players, then obviously they become the focus of what you were doing.”

Hallman, who is currently Saugus’ co-athletic director, served as boys basketball head coach for 14 years before stepping down in 2008.

He coached for and against plenty of lethal pairings through the years.

But he never had to coach against a tandem like Kaluna and Harris.

Former Canyon basketball head coach Chad Phillips did.

“Usually in a game, you’re able to go into it eliminating one facet — that being the inside presence or the outside presence — and I’m blessed I don’t have to coach against (Kaluna and Harris) this year,” says Phillips, who coached the final of his 12 seasons at Canyon last year.

He’s now a co-athletic director at the school.

Though he too saw many impressive player combos in his day, he gravitated toward 2011-12 Canyon stars Coley Apsay and Clay Kasdorf, who both graduated last year.

Last season, Apsay and Kasdorf combined to score 39.3 points per contest, leading the Cowboys to a co-Foothill League championship which was shared with West Ranch.

That was the best pair Phillips remembers coaching.

The best he played with, he said, were guards Greg Minor and Charles Woodard, who posted a total of 43.5 points per game during the 1993-94 season.

A few years before that, Hart forward Ali Peek and guard Matt Steffe posted a collective 37 points and 25 rebounds per game for the 1991-92 Foothill champion Indians.

But beyond the numbers, there are a few other reasons it could be argued that this year’s West Ranch twosome rises above the rest.

For one, these two aren’t one-season wonders. This is a stretch of sustained success.

“Most of these duos have great senior seasons,” Phillips says. “People forget these (West Ranch) guys have had great back-to-back seasons.”

And because of that, the two can work off each other and use their instincts to help one another out.

“When they’re both going like that, to be honest, both are unstoppable,” Bicakci says. “There’s just nothing you can do.”

The connection between the two players only adds to the skill each possesses individually.

Kaluna has already committed to play for Northern Arizona University next year.

Harris may soon follow in the NCAA Division I ranks.

No matter where these two end up and no matter where they stand among the greatest prep basketball dyads in the SCV, they’ll always be known for laying the foundation of what could become a West Ranch basketball powerhouse.

“We just want to make a name,” Harris says. “Let everyone know that, ‘Hey, remember that one team that won a league title and a CIF title?’ We just want to be remembered.”

Or another way to put it, they want to be known as “the best team in West Ranch history,” Kaluna says.

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