St. Francis to declare for Division I in boys basketball

St. Francis raised the championship trophy after winning the boys basketball Division II state title for the second year in a row last month. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

St. Francis, which has won the last two Division II state titles in boys basketball, will declare for Division I next season, the school said today.

Co-athletic director Duane Eldredge was learning about the news from Co-AD Chad Konishi early Thursday afternoon as a reporter called.

“Sister (Joan of Arc) was sharing that Kameron (Ng) was named the Gatorade player of the year. With that, she announced we’re moving up in boys basketball,” Eldredge said.

In eight seasons of boys basketball at St. Francis, the Saints have won six ILH Division II titles and three state championships.

Ng, a junior guard, was named the Gatorade Hawaii player of the year on Thursday.

The Saints went 29-3 overall this past season, losing twice to eventual Division I state champion Punahou and once to Kamehameha. They were ranked No. 3 in the state in the final Honolulu Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10.

Coach Ron Durant was informed of the decision this morning. It’s been an ongoing discussion between administration, athletic directors and coaching staff in the past year.

“It’s worth a run, you know. It’s a good time,” Durant said on Thursday afternoon.

Durant had concerns in previous discussions that his team didn’t have the depth to match the ILH’s D-I powerhouses, particularly in the front court. Boris Vukovic, their 6-3 forward-center, will graduate soon. The Saints will also lose guard Bryce Nishida to graduation. Versatile Manoa Kuali‘i-Moe was also in his senior season before the school suspended him. Reserve post Wembley Mailei also graduates. Without a guarantee that an influx of tall talent is coming, Durant is cautiously optimistic.

“People always say stuff about us, but little do they know there were a lot of games when we only had seven guys. But it’s still a good opportunity for Kameron and our program,” Durant said.

In the mean time, the Saints may be entering a sweet spot. Though the ILH is always a gauntlet that disappoints many contenders, most of the league’s D-I teams will be in transition due to heavy senior graduation numbers.

State champion Punahou relied on a large, talented senior class. League champion Maryknoll loses most of its starters. Kamehameha’s top players, also seniors. ‘Iolani, Mid-Pacific and Saint Louis lose key seniors, too.

“Those teams, they just reload,” Durant said. “One of Kamehameha’s JV teams, if I’m not mistaken, played Punahou for the championship.”

St. Francis isn’t entirely out of the loop.

“Our intermediate and JV teams were in Division I and our JV made it to the semifinals,” Durant said. “Three to four of our JV players, realistically, will move up to varsity. Two of them, Chase Akana and Nalu Kanalulu, played with us in the (D-II state-title) run.”

St. Francis will also return guards Kordel Ng, Jett Tanuvasa and Titus Liu, and forward Bubba Akana.

Because the Saints’ athletic program is designated D-II by the ILH, they are not required to move up to D-I. It is strictly optional for them.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Durant aded. “I came from Kamehameha. I always wanted to coach at that level, so for me, I’m looking forward to that.”

So are the rest of the Saints, who defeated Maryknoll in nonconference play and came very close to beating Kamehameha and Punahou.

“Kameron’s excited,” Durant said. “We have some young kids who will develop over the summer. Our hashtag was #workwins.”

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