Yesterday — Monday, Dec. 19, 2016 — was one of the most enjoyable days of prep basketball I can remember. From morning to night, a lot of great competition, and the Kahuku-De La Salle battle before a packed house was special. Having three island teams in the quarterfinals was rare enough, but Kahuku’s 56-51 win gives fans their first Hawaii team in the semifinal round since 2006, when Kawika Shoji sparked ‘Iolani to wins in the first two rounds. I’d like to find out if there have been other local semifinalists. I thought for a second that ‘Iolani reached the semis during the senior year of Derrick Low and Ryan Hirata, but they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Montrose Christian on a buzzer-beating 3 by quiet-but-effective point guard Taishi Ito, who hardly ever shot the ball. Except when it mattered most. That was a dark night.
I’d also like to get input from old-timers (you know who you are) on the best ever players in the Classic. Best players, best performances, not entirely the same thing. Kevin Durant played here, but did he have a better tournament than Jerry Stackhouse or Dennis Scott? Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith were spectacular, but did they really play better than Jacque Vaughn?
With the opening-round upsets, we have some prize contenders in the consolation bracket — Corona del Sol (No. 1 in Arizona 6A) and Mount Vernon — so that makes the daytime matchups much more interesting. I’ll be blogging all day and night. Kapolei vs. Corona del Sol? Mount Vernon vs. Mid-Pacific? Dr. Phillips vs. Kailua? De La Salle vs. ‘Iolani. It’s a good time for prep hoops fans and teams alike. Especially before the grind of ILH and OIA basketball smothers us.
Tonight, the semifinals presents the usual Rocky Balboa-versus-Drago-the-Superhuman scenario. Oak Hill, the seven-time (or is it eight if we find the 1992 results) Classic champion and behemoth has everything going its way. Southwind is a gritty, talented team, but it’s a high school team. Oak Hill’s basketball program is like almost no other in the land, producing future NBA stars like a true cottage industry from the hills of Virginia. And they have cool uniforms.
Findlay Prep was absolutely constructed and engineered to be a national powerhouse. It is not a school, technically. It is a basketball program that partners with Henderson International School (Nev.), and though there has been controversy — as of 2014, the program had not produced an NCAA-eligible student-athlete in his first year — not all schools and teams are created alike. There’s a niche for what Findlay Prep does, as there’s one for Oak Hill and decades of basketball-oriented programs. It is, quintessentially, America. Land of opportunity.
Football is following that path with monster dynasties like Bishop Gorman. There have always been mega-programs in prep football (Texas), but Bishop Gorman’s emergence as a landing spot for out-of-state transfers is both compelling and crazy at the same time. But back to roundball…
With the 35-second shot clock in place, it seems almost impossible for Southwind and Kahuku to beat the likes of Findlay Prep and Oak Hill. Getting a lead and dribbling the life out of the game clock was a blueprint to beat the giants back in the day, at least in college hoops. It’s still a recipe for prep teams with the exception of the CIF and the ‘Iolani Classic.
What Kahuku has done borders on magic. Supernatural. Talent trumps all factors in most cases, but even with the return of Samuta Avea, the import of Jessiya Villa and Dan Fotu, watching the Red Raiders blend and build chemistry so quickly against established programs is surreal. Fans here have seen it and felt it whether they’re wearing red or not.
But Rocky Balboa, even with his real-life statue in Philadelphia, is pure fiction. If Southwind and/or Kahuku can stay close, even just for two or three quarters, that would be more real than beating Drago, Clubber Lang or any other incarnation of Hollywood.
An upset win tonight would be tectonic. Mere mortals — teenagers — do not beat the Findlay Preps and Oak Hills of earth. Or do they?