Basketball Top 10 Polls: Art vs. Science

Our first Top 10 polls for high school basketball are out and it’s a buffet, to say the least.

My vantage point is always a mixed bag. I may see a few more games than most fans, but having more information cuts the other way, too. There’s no way I can see every game, even though the people near me know that would be on my daily bucket list.

On the boys side, Kamehameha had three more points than Punahou. Kamehameha’s the defending state champion and I was persuaded to check them off as the top team on my ballot after seeing them beat Farrington last week. Is there another go-to scorer as efficient as Warriors guard Dyrbe Enos? Thirty-one points on 14 shot attempts with only one turnover? There might not be a more efficient performance out of anyone the rest of the season, maybe not even by Enos, a senior leader on a fairly young team.

Any first-time poll for a new season is always a tricky challenge for pollsters like me. I’ve been doing polls since 1999 when I was at Hawaii Sports Network. (When I was at West Hawaii Today from ’90-’98, I didn’t do any polls.) Making sure that I have all of last year’s voters’ e-mail addresses is always a pain. People change their addresses and tell no one, especially the weekly poll guy. I expect that. But what made this year’s debut hoops poll more time consuming is that I stopped (finally) using my old PowerBook to handle the mailouts. I finally stopped being a cheapskate and bought Excel for my iMac.

As of this week, the PowerBook hadn’t been turned on in months. With a busy Monday, I realized making the effort to get the old laptop turned on, hooked up to an Internet line and send the Excel spreadsheet of last year’s final poll — with a sometimes broken control pad — would waste too much energy and time.  If you’re familiar with spreadsheets, you know what this means. Yep, I built two new sheets for the boys and girls polls from scratch.

It was actually fun. The new spreadsheets are actually better now. But enough with spreadsheet nerdsville.

Here’s how I voted this week in the boys poll: 1. Kamehameha, 2. ‘Iolani, 3. AOP, 4. Farrington, 5. Punahou, 6. Pahoa, 7. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 8. Moanalua, 9. Baldwin, 10. Kahuku.

This is where art meets science, and without a lot of empirical data to observe, it’s more art — guessing — at this point of the season. When teams started playing in tournaments last week, some of them had only been in two or three practices, so there’s a lot of room for this poll and my ballot to change drastically.

Why Kamehameha first? I tend to side with defending champions until they prove beatable. Kamehameha lost immense talent to graduation (Micah Christenson), but their performance in the James Alegre Invitational was solid. In fact , they got better with each game.

‘Iolani would not be second on the ballots of many coaches and media, but they haven’t disproved anything yet. Year after year, the Raiders show the results of a strenuous offseason training program. Gabo Vega is bigger and better. He might be the healthiest big man out there, and by big I mean 6-foot-6. He’s a post with athleticism, if you can remember last year’s slam dunk contest at the ‘Iolani Classic. The Raiders have a lot of shoes to fill due to graduation, but they’re set at the point and the post.

AOP at No. 3? Yes. I haven’t seen them, but their 18-point win over Kahuku is Exhibit A. Also, they’re savvy, tall and infused with new talent to go with solid returnees. I heard from several coaches and seasoned fans, and they all said the same thing: AOP plays like an old team, not like a group of kids.

Farrington is at No. 4 for me because of the play of Viane Vaina and Mikey Kleman. Vaina was unstoppable in the paint, even against Kamehameha’s athletic posts. Kleman is unstoppable off the dribble, finishes well with great body control on those lefty reverse layups. But what really sets him apart this year is his improved 3-point shot. Great follow-through. If the rest of the cast can step up and handle traps, the Govs will fare well against D-I foes. It’s still a shame they’re stuck in D-II, but that’s whole ‘notha story involving the OIA’s medieval ways.

Punahou could be the best team in the state. Talent-wise, a lot of hoopaholics are convinced that the Buffanblu already are. I need some data. I need to be convinced. People have said this about Punahou for the past few years without remembering that they’ve always been stocked during that time with players who are primarily into other sports like football and volleyball. Combine that with injuries (DeForest Buckner last year) and inconsistent backcourt play, and you have a very good, but not-yet-great team.

Will they be better right now? Of course. I expect it from a good coaching staff and an influx of new talent, particularly with their guards. Combine that with Buckner (6-foot-7) and Malik Johnson (6-5), and the formula for success is there. Getting into basketball shape — Buckner and Johnson played in the state championship football game two weeks ago, and Johnson played in the exhibition all-star game last Friday — will take time.

Pahoa at No. 5. Honda, are you crazy? No, I am not. The Daggers have a core of solid, reliable players who know their roles well. They aren’t particularly big. But I’ll take good role players, team chemistry and a go-to scorer who is fearless over any team that expects to win just because it is tall. Pahoa beat Kamehameha-Hawaii the other night in the final of the Waiakea-Keaau Tournament, winning four games in four nights. Yet, KS-Hawaii was voted ahead of Pahoa in today’s Top 10. The info will get around to the voters eventually. I didn’t know about Pahoa’s win until after the ballots were sent back by voters.

KS-Hawaii was next on my ballot at No. 7. Lanaki Apele and Shaun Kagawa may be the best guard duo in the state. Great defense, Apele runs the show and Kagawa is ultra-aggressive offensively. They’ve got a lot of holes to fill from last year’s senior-heavy frontcourt, but the talent is there.

Moanalua is young, but fast, talented and committed to running. That’s one thing that runs contrary to many basketball programs in the islands, and Greg Tacon is a master of tempo. He lets his talent play. Watching them last week, subbing in large numbers and seeing what their new guys have to offer, they’re going to be good again this season. It’s hard to imagine losing Dexter Williams and Keven Amaral and still being a good team, but they have a chance to be even better. That’s why Na Menehune are No. 8 on my ballot for now. They could easily move close to the top in the next couple of weeks.

Baldwin has a lot of the same denominators this year. Coach Wayne Gushiken has some new faces on his staff — new to me, anyway — and it’s a good balance. Gushiken is the Yoda of MIL basketball, always demanding precision. When I saw them against Leilehua last week, they didn’t show a lot of that high backscreen action, but maybe they were saving it. Instead, it was a lot of motion, and they’ve got the athletes to do it all game long. That will wear out pretty much any man-to-man defense, especially teams that really lack depth. Gabriel Ross is still a stud in the backcourt. He’s aggressive enough on both ends to make plays out of nothing in a Ginobili-esque fashion, but he also shares the ball and defers to his go-to scorer in the post. That’s maturity.

Kahuku could and some might say should be higher than No. 10 on my ballot. I like the Red Raiders a lot. They had maybe the most athletic starting 5 in the state before Bronson Beatty got hurt in the HUB Goodwill Senior Bowl. His MCL injury will take time to heal, and he’s already in rehab — no surgery — and could be back in time for the playoffs. If he is back almost 100%, this might turn out to be a winnable situation for Coach Darren Johnson.

Someone on the bench will become a starter and develop into a key contributor while Beatty is out. But “DJ” is right about the loss. Beatty’s length (6-2), quickness, speed and toughness are irreplaceable. But with Kawe Johnson and Mekeli Fiso, they have speed and endurance. This is a team built to run all night long. They’ll need time to get into basketball shape after winning the football state title two weeks ago, but the Red Raiders figure to be both a title contender in the OIA, and probably one of the most entertaining hoopsters to watch.

So that’s the boys ballot, subject to change weekly, of course. In all voters picked 27 different teams on their ballots. That might be a record in my 12 or so years of polling. It says a lot about the uncertainty in boys hoops this season. Just about all the teams that got at least one vote/point has some solid talent, but not a lot of depth and skill. The parity is a carryover from the fall season; it’s just a slightly down year statewide for senior talent. That means the whole thing is wide open. Players who are coachable are at a premium, and the coaches who get that trust from their players will be the most successful. Easier said than done. Naturally.

The girls basketball universe is ruled by Konawaena. Again. Yet, as the 2009-10 season demonstrated, even the big green giantess can be chopped down. Could it happen again?

I really doubt it. Konawaena came back from that stunning title-game loss to Lahainaluna with a vengeance last season to win its second state crown in three years. Are the Wildcats still hungry?

Apparently, yes. They’re already 6-0 with margins of victory in the double-digits. That includes a 62-35 win over Mililani, 56-36 over KS-Hawaii, 55-35 over Waiakea, 57-26 over Kaimuki, 48-32 over Lahainaluna and 54-39 over Mid-Pacific.

The Owls had a five-point lead on Konawaena at the half before the ‘Cats took control. If you want to see the most dominant team in the state, you get your chance this week when they play in the ‘Iolani Classic starting on Thursday. Last year, Lia Galdeira stepped up, but her team wasn’t quite in attack mode against a big, physical opponent. Galdeira ended up bruised all over, taking a shot in the head in what was one of the worst officiated games I’ve seen in 22 years of covering preps. But they lost because they didn’t fight back, and that’s what was disappointing at that time for the team and their fans.

This year, I expect the Wildcats to play big and physical at the Classic. If anything, Galdeira will make sure she never backs down, and I expect Dawnyelle Awa to play full throttle from start to finish. It’s a lot for the Mauka Kona community to expect from their small school and giant program — four state championships in eight years. But Bobbie Awa always sets the bar high for her team.

Here’s how I voted in the girls poll: 1. Konawaena, 2. ‘Iolani, 3. Punahou, 4. Kamehameha, 5. Kamehameha-Hawaii, 6. Kaiser, 7. Mililani, 8. Kahuku, 9. Kaimuki, 10. Waiakea.

This was really a guessing game with the girls, since I’ve only seen two games, and both were ILH.

‘Iolani has the guns to battle with any team. Their depth is good, though the dropoff when they sub 5-for-5 is significant. Until they get their turnover problems fixed when the second team is on the floor, I don’t see the Raiders beating Konawaena, which will press them to infinity and beyond.

But the first five might be the best in the state in terms of balance. Kylie Maeda, Saphyre Rezentes. Either could average 25 points per game if given more playing time and opportunities, but Eddie Maruyama’s system is geared for uptempo, racehorse speed. Ultimately, if the Raiders are playing great fullcourt pressure defense and shooters are on fire, Rezentes and the BYU-bound Maeda could score 25 each in a single game.

That’s just the hoops junkie in me talking. To this point, the Raiders are scoring more than 60 points per game against some tough defensive teams while keeping the pace quick. It was fun to watch last year, and it’s even more effective this year now that their posts are more experienced and reliable.

Punahou is third on my ballot, which may be a surprise with a first-year head coach. However, Kekoa Taliaferro has been in the system for several years and his infusion of new energy has kept the Buffanblu playing at a high level. Mike Taylor gave 10 years of his coaching life to the program, not to mention his time as an assistant. The Buffanblu have responded to Taylor’s departure quite well thanks to Taliaferro’s steadying influence, and returnees like Mysha Sataraka, Reina Furuya and Taylor Wong are thriving in the fast tempo Taliaferro has emphasized.

Kamehameha is tall and improving. The Warriors will run and press, which is Darold Imanaka’s blueprint for basketball. Alohi Robins-Hardy showed signs of becoming a sharpshooter last year, and it’s difficult to gauge how good she can be in basketball when she’s an all-state volleyball standout. So far, the Warriors have been solid, with only one loss (‘Iolani).

KS-Hawaii, Kaiser, Mililani, Kahuku, Kaimuki, Waiakea … haven’t seen them yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing them all, the sooner the better. Kaiser, which has several players from the Eastsidaz basketball club, has balanced scoring and familiarity with Coach Simon Bitanga’s system.

Of the teams that made the poll that I didn’t vote for — Lahainaluna, Roosevelt, Pearl City — I’m not a dissenter by any means. The Lady Lunas have plenty of new talent churning out of the community’s Menehune program. Mililani has a solid group, including MPI transfer Taylor Babbitt, who is already the team’s new leading scorer. Roosevelt will stand its ground, even with an injury to speedy guard Shana Kawakami. I’ve seen her play against men in pickup games, and she is astoundingly good — when healthy.

Pearl City has returning scorer Sabrina Angle, but until I see Mike Morton’s squad, I remain neutral.

I’ve had a chance to see Mid-Pacific twice. The Owls have one of the state’s top guards in Kiki Robertson (31 points against Punahou), but putting the pieces together will take time for Wes Masuda and his staff. Some of their best talent is quite young, and with the departure of Babbitt, they haven’t quite gotten a consistent second scorer established. Babbitt is good at penetration, and MPI has players who can drive to the basket.

Some of the oher teams I really want to see include Sacred Hearts, Kapolei and Leilehua. Maryknoll could be interesting, too, just to see how Steve Caley’s team is doing since the graduation of All-State guard Ashley Agcaoili. The early-morning ballers have 6 a.m. practices. That’s life in basketball.

In all, 22 girls teams got votes this week. That’s the nature of polls. Week by week, voters narrow their scope and the contenders separate themselves from the pack. By season’s end, there may be no more than 14 teams that get votes.

For now, though, anything is possible. Coaches and media sometimes vote with their imagination, never more so that during the first few weeks of the season.

Paul Honda Star-Advertiser



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