This is how early it is in the boys basketball universe: There are still myriad tournaments to be played, and as Maryknoll girls coach Chico Furtado noted a couple of weeks ago, the boys have seven weeks (in the ILH) from day 1 to league opener while the girls had 26 days.
Such is the way in the world of Hawaii high school basketball. I still miss the years when the boys and girls played in separate seasons and I got to cover hoops for six months. Now there are heavy scheduling limitations for practice time at most schools, especially those in the ILH with intermediate programs.
But this is not about logistics and politics. This is about whipped cream: my ballot for the week 1 Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10.
Below is the Top 10, derived from the votes of coaches and media, with each team’s win-loss record as of Monday morning (voting deadline), and my ballot comparison.
1. Punahou (4-0) (10 first-place votes). Pupule ballot: No. 1.
This isn’t extremely difficult, but difficult enough. Punahou returns a busload of talent from a team that reached the state final last year. The injury to Cole Arceneaux (knee) during football season is an undeniable factor. Punahou has depth, length, speed, shooting, and just enough girth in the paint (Duke Clemens) to match up with any foe. Fans of high-speed chases will continue to enjoy watching the Buffanblu and their fullcourt press. Developing a consistent low-post scoring option is important in the ILH, where games inevitably grind down to a crawl. Punahou has time to work on that. After wins over Moanalua, Farrington, Kalaheo and at Kahuku (Monday night), Punahou has Leilehua (Thursday), Kapolei (Friday) and Kalaheo (Saturday) next. After that, the ‘Iolani Classic. Punahou in the ‘Iolani Classic. Man, it has been ages.
2. ‘Iolani (2-1) (five first-place votes). Pupule ballot: No. 7.
No, the Raiders are not, talent-wise, experience-wise, coaching-wise, the seventh best team in the state. But when it comes to weekly voting, my main criteria are head-to-head results and year-to-date results. I was ready to give ‘Iolani a No. 1 vote as a defending state champ, but then the Raiders lost at Kailua in the Surfrider Holiday Classic semifinals. There are major holes to fill after last season’s seniors graduated. But they still have the lighthouse, Hugh Hogland, getting stronger every year, to build around. The ride may be turbulent at times as the Raiders evolve, but they have defense on the perimeter (Helam Baldomero will make sure of this) and the interior with the 6-foot-9 Hogland. The Raiders will meet Kapolei today (Thursday), Moanalua (Friday) and Leilehua (Saturday) in the OIA-ILH Challenge.
3. Kamehameha (4-0). Pupule ballot: No. 2.
I got to see the Warriors overwhelm Kailua down the stretch for the title at the Surfrider Holiday Classic. They took the better shots in the clutch, had the better chemistry on both ends, and though Kamren Victorino-Kato and his colleagues on the arc deserve their accolades, center Nakoa Pauole is the x-factor. He’s just tall enough and absolutely physical enough to cause difficulty for taller centers. He gave Kailua’s stud post Christian Mejia a good battle from beginning to end.
4. Kalaheo (2-2). Pupule ballot: No. 5.
Another dangerous team, and being only human, I didn’t see them play with Captain Whitlock — who scored 40 points against Saint Louis last week — healthy. He had suffered a groin injury the day before I saw Kalaheo lose a close game to St. Francis. I factored in that 7-point loss to a powerful D-II program (easily good enough to be D-I) as well as Whitlock’s injury. The Mustangs have enough talent, depth, skill and size to win the state title. But they need Whitlock healthy, which is why I hope he is smart about an injury that is well-known to disrupt entire seasons for pro and college athletes. Kalaheo can get by without him through preseason. I’m just surprised he suited up against Punahou. The Mustangs have two losses at this point, both against quality teams. I will rarely, if ever, penalize a team on my ballot for losing to higher-ranked teams or Top 10 teams in general.
5. Kahuku (1-1). Pupule ballot: No. 8.
Like ‘Iolani, the Red Raiders didn’t rate high on my ledger only because of an early-preseason loss (to St. Francis). It was their first game of the preseason, so there’s that. I like what they have, no question. Samuta Avea is regaining form after an offseason ankle injury. Kesi Ah-Hoy was a defensive marvel against St. Francis, less than two weeks after playing a long football season. Virginia transfer Jessiya Villa, son of former Kamehameha standout Kahi Villa, is smooth as they come in the backcourt. Coach Brandyn Akana has a good problem here, finding a blend that will be consistent. They will compete hard until then, but once Akana finds the right combinations, Kahuku will be the team to beat in the OIA. Height, length, intensity, and the potential All-State player of the year in Avea.
(Since the balloting, Kahuku has a home loss to Punahou, 67-57, and a 50-47 home win over Mililani.)
6. Maryknoll (5-0). Pupule ballot: No. 4.
Coach Kelly Grant sees players depart, but the Spartans never miss a beat. This time, it’s center Brian Washington, a three-year varsity letterman, who moved to Las Vegas with his family. But Maryknoll finds ways to compete and win, and the Spartans were 5-0 as of Monday’s voting deadline, scoring at least 69 points in four of five games. Talent-wise, I’m not surprised panelists ranked them sixth. But 5-0 is 5-0. That’s a 4-spot in my book at this point. That said, the 40-38 win over Kalani shows that the Spartans are not as indestructible as before. Can they keep the bar high without Washington?
7. St. Francis (4-0). Pupule ballot: No. 3.
Unbeaten with wins over Kalaheo and Kahuku, and they were voted No. 7. It’s either a case of sheer ignorance, which I can easily forgive at this early point, or a real lack of respect. I’m calling out all the voters who listed the Saints at seventh or lower. Really, they’re beating everyone in D-I (and D-II) on their schedule, and this is the best the panel can do? If their name was Baldwin or Saint Louis, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’d be at least No. 4 in the eyes of voters. Maybe that’s all there is to it. St. Francis’ boys basketball program has been competitive at the D-I level, but the cache — like that of Baldwin and Saint Louis) — isn’t there yet. But they’re getting close.
8. Kailua (3-2). Pupule ballot: No. 6.
The win over ‘Iolani is massive. The loss one night later to Kamehameha, maybe even more emotional, at least for the Surfriders. Wally Marciel has been working hard. His staff working hard. His players building and building from the JV program up, over the past few years. Like St. Francis, voters are going on past history (though not far back enough to remember the George Puou-led state champs in the 1980s) rather than actual head-to-head results. As one assistant coach at Kailua said, they might be better off ranked 11th. Maybe. But No. 8 or 9 is actually not a bad place to be. Just getting enough respect, but low enough to carry it as a chip on the shoulder. Since the balloting, the Surfriders lost on the road at Kapolei 52-49.
9. Saint Louis (2-2). Pupule ballot: No. 10.
This, THIS is a dangerous team. Jaymason Nunuha is one of the top returnees in the state, and Chris Sykes has always been a relentless attacker at the rim. But what I saw last week during the James Alegre Invitational was a team finding itself. Nunuha, a deadly long-range shooter, is expending a lot of energy as the new point guard. He’s doing a solid job there, and at the next level, he’ll have to play both guard positions anyway. Sykes hasn’t established himself at the rim the way I think he can. There are flashes that make me think he’ll become a double-double guy this season (as a sophomore). But I’m probably anticipating too much.
10. Lahainaluna (4-0). Pupule ballot: No. 9.
So disciplined, so controlled. Coach Jason Justus has the Lunas just where he wants them. They’re tall, long, old-school and very MIL-ish in so many ways. Probably not by design, the Lunas remind me very much of a typical Baldwin team. One big challenge is that the Lunas, for all their hard work — spending a month during the summer training in California each year — came to the Alegre and managed to avoid playing powerhouses like Punahou. Maybe they had no control over the scheduling. But this is the second time in as many years this has happened, so it might not be a fluke. Wins over a very young Leilehua team, an inexperienced Farrington team, and a so-so Hayward (Calif.) team were nice. I want to see what the Lunas would’ve done against Kalaheo and Punahou, so it’s going to take a lot for me to boost them higher than 9 or 10 on my ballot.
Mid-Pacific (1-0). Pupule ballot: unranked.
Zion Shepherd is a tough matchup for any center. Just so explosive with that first step. Not a great shooter, but excellent on the boards, defensive coverage is nice, and he runs like the wind. Can the Owls step up after last year’s up-and-down season? They meet Moanalua tonight (Thursday) at the OIA-ILH Challenge, then play Kalaheo on Friday and Kapolei on Saturday.
Kapolei (5-0). Pupule ballot: unranked.
I am always reserved when it comes to Hurricanes basketball. They were exceptional a few years back with Curtis Tavares and that crew playing lots of off-season league basketball, then it took a dip when their club coach, Jonathan Gelacio, departed. The ‘Canes have wins over McKinley, Kalani, University (36-34) and Roosevelt (51-45). On Wednesday, after the Top 10 was released, they knocked off Kailua 52-49. Are the ‘Canes for real? Looks like it. They meet ‘Iolani today, Punahou on Friday and MPI on Saturday in the OIA-ILH Challenge.
Kalani (4-2). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The Falcons are a team that clings to close games, for better or worse. They nearly upset Maryknoll (40-38), lost to Kapolei, then beat Mililani and then Kamehameha-Hawaii. Kalani won the St. Joseph tourney in Hilo, edging Konawaena for the title. There is enough talent, with long-distance gunner Kapaa Nishimura and athletic Jaemi Harris on the boards. Coach Nathan Davis preaches a strong culture of team building and bonding, and this might turn out to be his most effective group, even if it’s not his most talented or tallest. The Falcons are clearly a contender for the OIA and state Division II titles.
Konawaena (2-1). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The Wildcats were very young last season and got off to a good start by finishing second at the St. Joe tourney.
Hawaii Baptist (2-2). Pupule ballot: unranked.
A lot is expected of the Eagles, who were a hot-and-cold fun bunch last season. Coach George Weeks went back to his run-and-gun ways with Brandon Mitchell and the baby birdies launching bombs from start to finish. So far this season, they have wins over Lanai and Honokaa, losses against Kaiser and Punahou II. A work in progress, and as much fun to watch as almost any D-II program.
Le Jardin (3-1). Pupule ballot: unranked.
Last year’s ascent was a thrill for Bulldog fans. They’re rising again with wins over Waipahu, Saint Louis II and Campbell already. The only loss was to Punahou II.
Moanalua (0-3). Pupule ballot: unranked.
Losses to Punahou (59-33), Hayward (Calif.) (60-51) and Saint Louis (63-54).
University (2-1). Pupule ballot: unranked.
Wins over Mililani (65-60) and Campbell (43-40). Loss to Kapolei (36-34).
Campbell (5-4). Pupule ballot: unranked.
No notable wins yet, but the Sabers have played more games than anyone else so far, I think. What player doesn’t want to have more games than practices?
Waialua (2-0). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The renaissance continues for the Bulldogs. They have wins over Anuenue and Hanalani so far. That might not be reason enough to throw a celebration, but it’s a promising start for the D-II ‘Dogs.
Kealakehe (n/a). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The Waveriders may have another middling season, but there’s always raw talent in Kailua-Kona. And, they just beat BIIF powerhouse Kamehameha-Hawaii 52-40.
Kamehameha-Hawaii (2-2). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The Warriors have wins over Pahoa and Hawaii Prep, losses to Kalani and Kealakehe. There’s a proud hoops tradition there. Time will tell if this season’s Warriors are up to the challenge.
Baldwin (1-2). Pupule ballot: unranked.
The Bears lost two of three at the Surfrider Holiday Classic. Losses to Waipahu and Waianae, a 48-45 win over Castle.