Pupule’s girls hoops ballot 1/6

by Paul Honda on January 8, 2014

The Honokaa Dragons are a D-II title contender. Longtime coach Daphne Honma is back in charge. (Paul Honda / Star-Advertiser)

The Honokaa Dragons are a D-II title contender. Longtime coach Daphne Honma is back in charge. (Paul Honda / Star-Advertiser)

Here’s how I voted in this week’s Star-Advertiser girls basketball Top 10 as of Monday (Jan. 6).

Pupule’s ballot
BKG 1/6/14
1. LAH
2. MS
3. KS
4. KON
5. ROS
6. HIL
7. MIL
8. PUN
9. IOL
10. HON

This season is as unpredictable as I can recall in girls hoops. There is no completely seasoned, dominant team. Lahainaluna is somewhat close to that, with veteran guards and a surplus of tall, athletic bigs. They also love to run, shoot threes and press — all aesthetically pleasing and entertaining aspects but not essential to the ballot I work on.

Why the Lady Lunas over the Spartans? At this point, my guess (let’s be real, this is about guessing, not actual science) is that Lahainaluna can play fast or slow without a hitch. Maryknoll? I know they can play at a moderate or slower tempo. In a fast game, it would be fun, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll get my chance tonight when the Spartans play speedy ‘Iolani.

Kamehameha is still in position to capture its second state title in a row now that we’ve seen what Alohi Robins-Hardy can do when necessary. Before Tiare Kanoa’s season-ending injury, Robins-Hardy was a capable, versatile all-state player, but not the go-to scorer. But her 26-point, 11-rebound performance in a comeback win over ‘Iolani was spectacular. When she is looking to exert and assert like that, there isn’t really anything that can stop her.

On one play, she grabbed the rebound and went coast to coast. On another, she was covered by a small guard and immediately posted her up under the rim for an easy deuce. Anyway, ’nuff said. The Warriors are third on my ballot only because of a loss to Maryknoll two weeks ago. Other than that, they have the x-factor that separates them from the pack.

Konawaena had some early losses as Chanelle Molina figured things out. This is a team that is somewhat similar to the one several years back that had Mana Hopkins as a senior. That team was not dominant, though Hopkins had a superb season. Molina can take over a game like Hopkins, plus more. She’s already had a 45-point night (against Ka‘u), and with half the team in first-year organized basketball mode — even mighty Konawaena doesn’t have it easy finding dedicated year-round hoopsters — there will be more nights when Molina will carry the load.

The difference between now and a month ago, when the Wildcats won two of three at the Kaiser Invitational, is that Molina is accepting her role. Some players just refuse to step up to such a big responsibility. Molina has embraced it.

Roosevelt probably shouldn’t be this high on my ballot. They’ve lost to Punahou and Konawaena. But that was a month ago, and as fast and talented and balanced as the Rough Riders are, they are still a young team dominated by underclassmen. Maybe it’s my preference for uptempo teams that has Roosevelt at No. 5 on my list. I plead guilty.

Hilo? The Lady Vikings just lost at home (Hilo Armory isn’t on campus, but it’s a rustic, beautifully aged brick of a building that would fit in the actual era of “cagers”) to Konawaena 48-45. The Viks are small in the frontcourt, but physically tough nonetheless. That’s what I remember from the Kaiser tourney. And they still have Aliyah Pana, arguably the best 2-guard in the state. All those minutes, all that pounding on drives, it’s easy to wonder whether she can hold up.

I think she can. If BIIF officials, particularly the quick-whistle guys on the East side, adhere to the national federation’s emphasis on “illegal contact” (a.k.a. hand checking), that will help a slasher like Pana tremendously. But the BIIF has a history of tough guards who carry the scoring load for entire seasons anyway…

I haven’t seen Mililani yet, but hopefully I’ll get a chance soon. Sarah Liva dominated Division II last season. Now she’s dominating D-I and has a stronger supporting cast with the Trojans. I know some fans don’t like comparing D-I and D-II athletes, but that designation is strictly about teams and leagues, not individual players. If you saw Liva last season, you knew the 6-footer could dominate any level in Hawaii. That’s why coaches and media voted her to the All-State team. That’s why I did.

D-II isn’t supposed to be a negative on a kid. It’s simply a classification, just the same with the other 49 states (or so). It’s not a “minus” category no matter how the OIA treats it. (Win-loss power ratings are not kosher with the national federation, and the federation specifically refers to this on its website, nfhs.org.)

Punahou has depth, balance and one of the most experienced, successful coaching staffs in the state. I haven’t seen them since that 51-50 loss to Lahainaluna at the Kaiser tournament. They probably should be in the top 4; the only teams the Buffanblu have lost to are the Lunas and Maryknoll.

One referee mentioned to me recently that the Buffanblu are playing outstanding defense while keeping the hands off — in compliance with the emphasis on hand-checking. That’s notable. Punahou has a tradition of physical, battering defense, but as assistant (and former) coach Mike Taylor said recently, they’ve learned to adjust.

The Raiders are fun to watch, rely heavily on threes and I don’t know why Jade Botelho isn’t scoring 20 points every night. Well, I kind of do. In the Kamehameha game, she shot from the perimeter often. I don’t remember her posting up once. Could be all kinds of reasons for that; she sat a lot of the first half. But in time, even with the long-range party going on, she’s talented enough to score 8-10 points every game in the post, another 8-10 from the perimeter and 4-5 more from the foul line. That math is nice.

Then there’s the 10 spot. A magical place of musical chairs.

I have Honokaa at No. 10 because … there’s no strong reason why. The Dragons have lost a lot of games (15-9) to quality teams. So Moanalua (10-4), with smooth lefty LaChae McColor, should be at the 10-spot, right? Well, Honokaa beat Moanalua 55-48 in mid-November. Is Moanalua a better team now? Maybe. The numbers say so; Na Menehune are 8-0 in league play, though it’s safe to say that the OIA East is hardly a beast this winter.

If Moanalua beats Roosevelt on Thursday, well, that changes a lot of things.

How about Hawaii Baptist, which beat Honokaa in preseason? The Eagles are 4-0 in ILH D-II play (7-3 overall). But there are losses to Radford, St. Francis and Leilehua to consider.

Oh, Leilehua… The mighty Mules are 10-4 and 7-1 in league play. That looks good, almost as good as last year’s phenomenal squad. But, alas, the Mules lost to Moanalua in preseason. Big. And Sacred Hearts, a quality team. And Mililani.

Radford. At 9-4 (6-2 OIA), they’re doing fine. They battled in a loss to Maryknoll. They’ve lost to Mililani twice. Not bad. But the loss at Nanakuli is a red flag.

Nanakuli? The Golden Hawks are a shiny 10-3, including 7-2 in OIA West play. That includes wins over Kaiser and Waianae, losses to Moanalua, Mililani and Leilehua.

Sacred Hearts. This team has a core that’s been together for a few years. The payoff year, so to speak, and they’ve got a former standout Brittney Aiwohi in charge. The Lancers rolled over a menu of preseason foes, including Kalani, St. Francis and Leilehua. Then the ILH D-I schedule started and it’s been tough sledding.

Though they’re in D-I, a part of me keeps thinking they belong in D-II. Math-wise, they have a girls enrollment that’s substantial. And ILH rules being what they are, the Lancers don’t have much choice but to be in D-I for basketball. That allows other sports to be in D-II.

There’s a short summary on my ballot. More later.

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