There once was Yates, the human basketball team blur, as it were.
Scoring and scoring and running and running. Full-time intensity and speed for 32 minutes. Of course, longtime ‘Iolani Prep Classic fans recall Oak Hill, which seems to be here playing for the title every year. There are powerhouse teams that don’t play roundball these days, like Montrose Christian, which featured a younger Kevin Durant. There are teams that left their mark three decades ago, like the West Philadelphia Speedboys.
But none of those epic programs are here for the 2017 edition. Fairfax of Los Angeles is here. The Lions have played in more Classics than any team from out of state. With their 16th appearance this year, the Lions have actually played the tournament more than every Hawaii team with the exceptions of Kalaheo (17th appearance this week), Moanalua (17th), Kamehameha (21st) and host ‘Iolani (33rd).
The Lions are coached by Steve Baik, now in his second season. Previously, Harvey Kitani led them to titles in 2001, ’02 and ’05. Kitani coached at Fairfax for 35 years before retiring as a teacher and becoming a coach and athletic director at Rolling Hills Prep. Baik was the coach at Chino Hills before replacing Kitani. His ’16 Chino Hills team went 35-0.
The tournament favorite is Montverde (Fla.), which placed fourth in ’04 and second in ’10. The Eagles are the highest nationally-ranked team in the Classic and feature 6-foot-7 R.J. Barrett, who may be the nation’s top senior hoopster. Another ESPN Top 50 player is 6-4 Andrew Nembhard.
Greensboro Day (N.C.) is making its first visit to the islands since ’95. Oakland, Calif. powerhouse Bishop O’Dowd has played twice in the Classic, most recently in ’14. The Bengals finished last season ranked No. 6 by MaxPreps and No. 10 by USA Today.
Rainier Beach of Seattle, Wash., has one of the most storied programs in terms of individual talent that went on to the NBA: Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson, Doug Christie, Terrence Williams and current San Antonio Spurs player Dejounte Murray.
Rainier Beach, Jefferson (Ore.) and Taft Charter (Woodland Hills, Calif.) are making their debuts in the Classic.
Taft Charter of Woodland Hills, Calif., has an alumni list that includes Jordan Farmar and current Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
Last year, three Hawaii teams finished among the top eight. Kahuku finished third, ‘Iolani placed fifth and Kailua came in sixth. Here’s a look at the top entries from the islands.
>> Kamehameha Warriors (8-0)
The Warriors are off to a strong start in nonconference play, and the current edition may be the most talented and balanced under Coach Greg Tacon. Senior guard Kamren Victorino-Kato, at 6-2, has become one of the best finishers at the rim in the state. Swingman Kobe Young, now 6-6, teams with 6-5 Lele Kawaiaea to protect the rim. Kawaiaea suffered an injury last week and his status isn’t known.
>> Maryknoll Spartans (7-0)
This is the 10th appearance in the Classic for the Spartans, but it’s also their first visit since ’08. Maryknoll has a savvy, experienced and senior-heavy lineup and has become much more balanced offensively this season. Jaylen Cain is a 6-3 wing who can post strong, and the backcourt is solid with seniors Isiah Gelacio and Jordyn Perez. Makoto Kamata, a 6-3 junior, provides length and zone-busting shooting range whether he starts or comes off the bench. In a tourney like this, the value of 6-7 junior Marcus Tobin is magnified.
>> ‘Iolani Raiders (5-1)
The host Raiders aren’t quite like last year, when 6-9 Hugh Hogland (Portland) was a shot-blocking machine with excellent versatility for a center. ‘Iolani’s strength at this point is intelligence thanks to key playmakers like Kawika Lee. Noah Bumanglag has been missed (concussion), but Coach Dean Shimamoto’s relatively small — by ILH standards — roster has plenty of tough defenders who can hit the 3 like Frank Felix, Sam Wheeler and Ryan Van Cantfort. Justin Genovia (collarbone) is expected back just before Christmas after suffering his injury during football season. Much of their post defense depends on 6-4 Cole Hogland, who is starting to pick up traction on both ends.
>> Moanalua Na Menehune (7-3)
Na Menehune opened nonconference play with seven wins, but lost three of four games games in their home gym during the OIA-ILH Challenge. Coach Byron Mello’s team has shown the ability to play fast or slow. Forward Caleb Casinas and guard C.J. Bonilla are among the talented returnees from last year’s squad.
>> Kalaheo Mustangs (10-4)
Coach Rob Pardini’s team has had almost as many games as practices, which suits senior standouts like 6-4 Andrew Kearney just fine. What the Mustangs lack in instant scoring like last season, they make for with quick ball movement and scrappy defense. There are versatile, tough seniors like Harry Wallace, gunners like Ryan Pardini and young talent like Kanoa Smith. The 6-foot sophomore, Smith, might turn out to be one of the top 10th graders in the state.
>> Leilehua Mules (2-5)
Senior Liam Fitzgerald sat out last week’s OIA-ILH Challenge with an ankle injury, and the Mules went 1-3. The pieces are there for Coach Russ Fitzgerald, who has height and hustle on his roster. Leilehua has a steadying influence in PG Tashaun Wright, a 6-foot senior. Two of the Mules’ losses were by 2 or less points.
>> Kapolei Hurricanes (3-2)
The ‘Canes are talented and hard-working, and by Hawaii standards, they’ve also got plenty of size. Yet, without PG Isiah Higa at full health (ankle), they’ve had some struggles. They’re coming off a 61-54 non-league loss at Kailua on Wednesday. Zoar Nedd, a 6-4 senior, sets the tone on both offense and defense.
>> Lahainaluna Lunas (3-2)
The Lunas are not the same offensive force this year, but they have plenty of defensive unity. With 6-6 Carter Stockham, 6-4 Aukai Kama and 6-4 Koa Evalu Robinson, they have one of the tallest rim defending units in the state.
FRIDAY, DEC. 15
>> Game 1: ‘Iolani vs. Pearl City, 3:30 p.m.
>> Game 2: Moanalua vs. Rainier Beach (Seattle), 5 p.m.
>> Game 3: Kamehameha vs. Taft (Woodland Hills, Calif.), 6:30 p.m.
>> Game 4: Kalaheo vs. Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) 8 p.m.
SATURDAY, DEC. 16
>> Game 5: Leilehua vs. Fairfax (Los Angeles), 3:30 p.m.
>> Game 6: Kapolei vs. Jefferson (Portland, Ore.), 5 p.m.
>> Game 7: Lahainaluna vs. Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), 6:30 p.m.
>> Game 8: Maryknoll vs. Greensboro Day (Greensboro, N.C.), 8 p.m.
MONDAY, DEC. 18
>> Game 9: ‘Iolani/Pearl City loser vs. Lahainaluna/Montverde loser, 9 a.m.
>> Game 10: Moanalua/Rainier Beach loser vs. Leilehua/Fairfax loser, 10:30 p.m.
>> Game 11: Maryknoll/Greensboro Day loser vs. Kalaheo/Bishop O’Dowd loser, noon
>> Game 12: Kapolei/Jefferson loser vs. Kamehameha/Taft loser, 1:30 p.m.
>> Game 13: Kapoei/Jeffersen winner vs. Kamehameha/Taft winner, 3:30 p.m.
>> Game 14: Moanalua/Ranaier Beach winner vs. Leilehua/Fairfax winner, 5 p.m.
>> Game 15: ‘Iolani/Pearl City winner vs. Lahinaluna/Montverde winner, 6:30 p.m.
>> Game 16: Maryknoll/Greensboro Day winner vs. Kalaheo/Bishop O’Dowd winner, 8 p.m.