(Here’s the extended version of today’s preview for the Division II bracket of the boys basketball state tourney.)
This is the land of mystery and intrigue.
It’s not the old set for “Lost” or the Bermuda Triangle. This is the Division II bracket of the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships, where the top seed gets no opening-round bye and any underdog could end up taking the Big Dance.
“There’s so much parity that anything can happen. Any one of these teams can take it,” said Kalaheo coach Alika Smith, whose top-seeded squad has an intriguing draw in the run-and-gun Kohala Cowboys tonight.
Smith’s team went 37-6 overall and took the Oahu Interscholastic Association White Conference title. But those enormous feats mean little this week. Kalaheo, which knocked off then-No. 1 Kamehameha in a December tourney, also lost to Hawaii Prep that month on the Big Island.
HPA is seeded second in this week’s state tourney, with Kapaa third and St. Francis fourth.
“This is the first time that an ILH 1 and OIA 1 are in the same bracket,” Smith marveled.
The D-II tourney may end up with more buzzer-beaters than the D-I. Neighbor-island entries HPA, Kohala and Kapaa have enough depth and scoring punch to make a big dent in the dreams of Oahu’s qualifiers.
Here’s a look at tonight’s matchups.
1. Kalaheo (37-6, 14-2 OIA) vs. Kohala (14-9, 8-5 BIIF)
On paper: No team has come close to donning the uniforms and playing another game as often as the Mustangs. Coach Smith treated nonconference games like practices. That was preferable, he said, to shortened workouts in their home gym with girls varsity, JV and boys JV all competing for floor time.
Josh Ko and Shem Sukumaran have stepped with clutch shooting from the field and the foul line. With 6-foot-6 Nainoa Frank in the post, Kalaheo has three effective juniors at its core, and senior Jordyn Reindollar is a deceptively efficient rebounder.
Coach Don Fernandez goes nine players deep in his rotation and has myriad scoring options, including gunner Kala‘i Kapeliela, son of former Cowboys sharpshooter Kenneth Kapeliela. The common thread for these two teams: each has a loss to HPA.
The skinny: This is a contrast in styles. Kalaheo, with its thin bench, likes a walking tempo, the better to save the legs of Ko and Sukumaran and defensive stopper Derick Morgan. Kohala will press from start to finish.
“You get a good look, go for it,” Fernandez said. “We force teams to play uptempo.”
Smith’s team hasn’t faced a go-go-go team like this all season.
“We want to pick our spots, but we want to take care of the ball,” he said. “They press with a 1-2-2 and a 2-2-1, and they’ll press you off a miss. It’s a frantic pace and we’ll have to deal with that. We have to make them pay.”
X factor: Cowboys were 3-0 at a preseason tourney on Kauai, and stunned Pahoa in Hilo — after nearly two hours on the bus — to seize a state berth. How long will it take them to adjust to a new setting?
2. Hawaii Prep (13-5, 9-3 BIIF) vs. Hanalani (19-5, 12-2 ILH D-II)
On paper: Two underdogs in one game? HPA has NEVER been in the boys basketball state tourney, even when Merv Lopes was head coach there in the early 1990s. (The team was nearing the league playoffs when the legendary coach walked away, irked that Ka Makani would not put in extra time to prepare for postseason … but that’s another story.)
Hanalani is, arguably, the classic Cinderella team, a tiny school from Central Oahu where high schoolers and kindergartners cross paths every day. Former player Keoni Haole is the Royals’ coach, willing this program into the higher echelon of ILH D-II. Kainoa Souza-Chaves is leading a balanced attack. The senior had 21 points in a playoff win over Le Jardin to seal the state berth.
HPA coach Fred Wawner has cultivated a powerhouse in his third season at the helm. Ka Makani toppled St. Joseph — which beat ‘Iolani in preseason — on the Cardinals’ home floor, then edged Kohala for the D-II league crown. Tyler Van Kirk, a 6-foot-3 forward, had 25 points and 13 boards in the win over Kohala.
The skinny: HPA has not traveled off island this season, and with no state-tournament experience in the lineup, Wawner is hoping for the best.
“They enjoy playing for each other and it’s a really unselfish group. In some ways, we don’t feel a lot of pressure because we haven’t had many high expectations,” he said.
X factor: HPA’s sixth man is Keanu Yamamoto, a three-sport standout who was a quarterback on the gridiron. Yamamoto overcame a serious leg injury during the 2010 football season to play as a senior.
“He’s a fun kid to coach. He gets it. He knows what we’re thinking and he’s all in, all the time,” Wawner said.
3. Kapaa (15-5, 12-1 KIF) vs. McKinley (21-8, 11-5 OIA)
On paper: Speaking of mysteries, Kapaa stayed home since the start of preseason and is making its first off-island trip. Among their foes in preseason were Kahuku (loss), Kaiser (loss) and Lahainaluna (loss). The Warriors also lost to Kohala, but coach Phillip Baclayon is optimistic thanks to a senior-heavy squad that has been in the state tourney before.
“Going to states year after year really helps. The kids know what to expect,” he said. “I feel really good.”
Point guard Willis Batol is a seasoned, efficient playmaker and distributor for a team that can play slow tempo or fast. The Warriors clinched the KIF title with an 80-62 win at Kauai nearly two weeks ago. Lance Miyashiro had 25 points and Batol added 21 in that game.
McKinley is coming off a runner-up finish in the OIA White. Guard Alex Ironside suffered an ankle injury in the title game, but should be near full strength.
Coach Bob Morikuni’s has the benefit of depth at each position, with big Jared Malaga spelling starter Kui Williams in the post. He also has quickness in the backcourt with Jace Bolosan and A.J. Ortaleza.
The skinny: The Warriors got a good look at McKinley during their preseason tourney.
“Coach Bob runs a really good system,” Baclayon said.
McKinley was on TV last week during the playoffs, while Kapaa stayed out of view.
X factor: The 10-day layoff could be a benefit for Kapaa, but any sign of rust could hurt early on, and the Warriors can’t afford to be flat for an entire half.
4. St. Francis (20-6, 11-1 ILH) vs. Seabury Hall (12-9, 8-0 MIL D-II)
On paper: The Saints, guided by coach Sol Batoon, are still one of the youngest teams in the state. Among their wins was a 39-24 game against Pearl City, which qualified for the D-I state tourney. If they can get past the Spartans, the Saints may meet top-seeded Kalaheo, a team it lost to 47-41 in early December.
Guards Austin Ursua and Shabir Lynton are ultra-quick, while Keoni Tom-Millare provides perimeter shooting and 6-6 sophomore Matthew Nuumanaia is a lean, aggressive attacker from the wing.
Seabury Hall went unbeaten through the MIL under first-year head coach Louis Turbeville, a Waianae graduate and former Kamehameha-Maui assistant. The Spartans have ridden high on the prolific scoring of Shane Jacob, a 6-2 senior who has scored 48 points in his last two games.
“Shane’s had a good second half of the season, but Division II here (in the MIL) isn’t that strong, so it’s hard to gauge,” Turbeville said.
The skinny: “We have six or seven kids who’ve been there before, but we didn’t have much success,” Turbeville said.
This is the first off-island trip of the season for the Spartans, who outgunned Molokai 84-60 in the MIL final. Molokai played without six players who had been dismissed from the team, Turbeville noted.
X factor: Rocky DeLyon and Max DeLyon have been integral parts of the Spartans’ winning ways, but it’s been awhile since they’ve seen a shot blocker with the wing span of Nuumanaia’s.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser