Fastbreak then, slow grind now

by Paul Honda on December 8, 2012

Reading the SI piece on LMU-LSU during the Paul Westhead era (thanks for the mag, Jerry Campany) has me reminiscing and yearning for those years again. I have the game on Beta videotape somewhere around here. No Beta player though. Three years ago, Yates and Lutheran played a great 95-88 game at the ‘Iolani Classic.

Locally, there were just a few games in that stratospheric region from the 2011-12 season. None come close to what Kalaheo and Farrington did one night in 1985, a 102-94 win by Pete Smith’s Mustangs over Harry Pacarro’s Governors. But a hoopaholic can always dream . . .

As for last season?

• Hilo 80, (then) No. 10 Pahoa 64, Dec. 10.

• No. 8 Moanalua 85, Waiakea 80, 2 OT on Dec. 27. I videotaped this game and never posted it. But I will. This game was GREAT.

• St. Joseph 70, No. 5 ‘Iolani 69, OT (Dec. 27). They didn’t hit a combined 140 points, but the pace was quick, the game was fluid and very entertaining. Maybe the last great win by the Cardinals.

• Hilo beat Keaau 98-81 on Jan. 19.

• Farrington and Roosevelt had a relatively high-scoring battle (Govs won 78-65) on Jan. 21.

• Roosevelt was in another barn-burner, a 92-72 loss to (then) No. 6 Kahuku on Jan. 27.

• Hawaiian Mission edged Lanakila Baptist — regularly one of the higher scoring teams in the state — 72-70 on Feb. 1.

• Kealakehe outscored Honokaa 80-78 — at Honokaa — on Feb. 2. (This brings to mind the night John Anderson poured in 40 points in Konawaena’s 88-78 win in the mid-1990s. I could be off a bit on the final score, but it was a wild night that included the Wildcats’ bus getting stoned on the way out of Lester Bryan Armory and Honokaa town. The players had minor scratches and cuts.)

• Kapaa over Kauai 80-62 on Feb. 10 to clinch the KIF title.

• Seabury Hall topped Molokai 84-60 on that same night to seal the MIL D-II crown.

• Hanalani 89, Christian Academy 56 (Feb. 16). I mention this because CA clearly didn’t have problems scoring a few points and wasn’t adverse to running with the Royals.

• McKinley 77, Kapaa 69 (Feb. 23) in the D-II state tourney quarterfinal round. What makes this interesting is that the Tigers ran and ran with the run-and-gun Warriors. Normally, Bob Morikuni’s teams prefer a more even tempo. Then again, he hasn’t always had a gunner like Alex Ironside.

There is a fine line between challenging every opponent’s shot and persistent offensive transition. Some teams won’t run after a made basket by the other team, period. But some of the great teams in the past at all levels have pushed the pace and tempo off misses and makes alike.

Clearly, a team that scores effectively in transition has common ingredients.

• Depth. It’s impossible to run every night, every game, all season long, without healthy, capable players. It’s tough to keep running unless a coach has eight players able and willing to run. Nine or 10 players with good wheels would be preferable.

• Commitment to running. In the SI piece by Luke Winn, Coach Westhead says, flat out, that if a team doesn’t commit entirely to running, it can’t be done. Is that why LMU averaged 122 points per game in that final Westhead season? Is that why no other team has come close (in Division I college hoops) since?

• Control. Giving up a controlled, grinding pace is not easy for a lot of coaches. I’m all for coaches who control their teams. I’m also for giving players maximum opportunities to display their skill and will. The final 3-4 minutes can always be “coach’s time”.

Nothing spelled this out better than last season’s D-I state tourney. Opening-round scores: 50-45, 61-43, 46-26, 43-38. Quarterfinals: 41-39, 78-53 (Punahou over Hilo), 39-37 (OT), 46-35. Semifinals: 59-41, 57-50. Final: Punahou 59, Kahuku 52 in a game that actually had pretty good pace.

• Championship pressure. The drive to win titles has overwhelmed the fans’ (and players’) need for entertaining, skill-driven basketball. Winn’s piece elaborates on the declining number of possessions per game in college ball since the Westhead era, from roughly 100 per game (per team) to less than 70 today.

It’s even more pronounced in the ILH, where the scarcity of state-tournament berths (two) puts enormous pressure on coaches to win every regular-season game. Sure, it’s the same when two coaches let their teams run, but if one team goes cold for a quarter, that could cost it a berth. Sad, but true. So we end up with a bunch of 39-37 overtime games featuring a lot of hacks and charging calls instead of a plethora of 89-85 games featuring a lot of open threes and beautiful passing.

I’m not saying I’ve never enjoyed a dramatic defensive battle. But I’m not going to lie and say I enjoy a 29-28 game better than a 77-76 one.

I’m not saying every coach is responsible for playing uptempo basketball when he has limited skill levels in his starting five and reserves. But I do think aspiring to a fast tempo can and has inspired players to improve drastically. After all, if I’m an average shooter and my coach’s philosophy is to play at least 10 players and take at least 80 shots (including 20-plus treys) every game as a team, then somehow, some way, I’m a big part of that mix — IF I become a reliable 3-point shooter.

In this era, with hand checks consistently enforced, there’s no reason a hoopster with good speed, quickness and perimeter shot can’t contribute significantly, even against teams that are 6-4, 6-6, 6-8, 6-10. Fast pace and deadly shooting are practically legislated in today’s game. I hope to see more of it.

Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser

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