Coaches Tribune: D-I hoops state tourney insights

The Hilo Vikings are seeded third and a relative unknown in the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. With a wipeout of many preseason games statewide, the Vikings and their hyper-speed pace could be a big challenge for ILH runner-up ‘Iolani. Photo courtesy of Heidi Pana.

Coaches share their thoughts on this week’s boys basketball state tournament.

The Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships began on Monday with opening-round play-in games. The quarterfinal round in Divisions I and II are on Thursday.

The questions presented to coaches:

>> What is your analysis of ‘Iolani in terms of strengths, pace, coaching and style?

>> How does your team contrast and compare in this matchup? What will be key for your success?

>> How is your team’s overall health?

>> Who has been very reliable for you, and who has exceeded expectations?

>> What are your thoughts on the brackets, pairings, and the overall format of the 12-team field?

Division I

Hilo (8-1, BIIF champion, third seed) vs. ‘Iolani (14-6, ILH runner-up)
Current Top 10 ranking: Hilo is unranked; ‘Iolani is No. 2
Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gymnasium

This game pits a resurgent, legendary program against a resurgent, legendary program. Hilo has resurrected itself, winning the BIIF for the first time since 2010. Former All-State player Ben Pana saw his daughters suit up for Hilo, and one of them, Alexis, now plays professionally in Romania. As Hilo’s coach, Pana brought back the full-tilt, high-speed pace and fullcourt press of Vikings teams from the state-tournament runs in the 1990s and 2000, when they last won the state crown.

‘Iolani freshman JJ Mandaquit and sophomore Taniela Taliauli grew up in Hilo. Playing against the Vikings is especially surreal for Mandaquit, whose father, Jason, was the All-State player of the year in 2000 during Hilo’s state-title run.

‘Iolani, sparked by young blood like Aaron Claytor, Taliauli and Mandaquit, was 0-13 in ILH play two years ago.

“I just know that I’m super excited to play them. I’m from there. We’re going to come out hard against them,” said Mandaquit, ‘Iolani’s leading scorer.

“It’s good for me and JJ because we’re from there, so we kind of want to show our boys how we’ve grown,” Taliauli said. “It’s going to be fun playing against them. They’re a really good team, too. Peyton Pana, he’s a really good player.”

Ben Pana, Hilo

“From what little film I saw, ‘Iolani has a very balanced team. They have really good guards who can handle and distribute the ball as well as shoot the perimeter shots. They also have nice size in the post. Which will be a good test for our bigs. They play at a very nice even pace. The ball and player movement has been very effective for them. They have a very smart coach in Mr. Hirata. From my observation he is very composed with a cool demeanor.

“The difference between ‘Iolani and Hilo to me is we click well when we are in transition. The kids enjoy playing at a 100 mph and have learned this season to change up the pace every so often.

“Being in a defensive mindset league like the ILH, I think Iolani understands how to play at a controlled pace and operate in a half court game.

“I think our key to the game would come down to being efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Taking and making quality high percentage shots and not get rattled. Player and ball movement will help us also.

“Defensively, we need to hold our composure and be both aggressive and physical. As long as we stay out of foul trouble we should be OK.

“Playing against JJ and Nela should be fun. They played in the Man-Up program that coach Jason Mandaquit started about eight or nine years ago. They grew up playing with my son Peyton over those years and have become brothers over that time. This will be the first time that they will face off against each other. Another kid who the joined the Man-Up program a little later is Mana Lau Kong (current ‘Iolani freshman). I was talking to Jason the other day about the teams in the state tournament this year. There are 6 teams that have players who were on our Man-Up travel teams. Hilo, ‘Iolani, Kamehameha-Hawaii, Baldwin, Saint Louis and Maryknoll) is seven if you count Kohala. I’m really excited to see these young men battle it out this week. It should be fun.

“The overall health of our team is OK. We are a little banged up at the moment but we should be fine. No matter how bad or not it is, our guys are always ready to play.”

“As the season in the BIIF went on Peyton Pana and Rayson Padilla have been very consistent through out the year. I know Rayson had a rough night in the first match-up against KS Hawai’i and has bounced back since. I believe he understands that his senior season is coming to a close after this week’s tournament so he has been giving maximum effort to help his team be the best that they can be.

“Peyton has been the most consistent player we’ve had all year. He does all the little things well and plays unselfish basketball. He is one of the more dependable guys we have on the team. Tre Une and Kiakahi Deparalta Huihui (Taliauli’s cousin) have been to players that have exceeded our expectations over the last few games. They both had a memorable BIIF championship weekend. They will have to be very disciplined going into the state tournament. If they can control their emotions I think they’ll have a great weekend of games.

“I think the pairings and the field o 12 is fair. These are the 12 best teams in the State at this point in time and that’s why we are all here. No matter who was placed where you get your opponents best shot no matter what. It’ll come down to who wants to win the most and who can execute to get it.

“I’m just happy to see Hilo High School back in the dance again. It’s an exciting time for these boys and I’m glad I get to be in this journey with them. We’ll give it our best shot and see where we stack up against the best teams and talent in the 808.”

The ‘Iolani Raiders are ranked No. 2 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 entering the state tournament. Photo courtesy of Ryan Hirata.

Ryan Hirata, ‘Iolani

“Hilo plays an exciting brand of basketball. They’re tough and love to get up and down the court using their speed. Coach Pana does a great job with his team and we look forward to the opportunity to play the BIIF Champs. We had an opportunity to watch them a couple times. One time on TV. They play hard. They’ve got a ton of skilled guards who can make plays off the bounce. They’ve got a big on the inside, Pana, who can really play. He shoots it, decent handle, tough. Again, we have to go in with the same mentality no matter who we play. Hilo’s a tough team. They won the BIIF. It starts with defense. It starts with our mentality. Hilo’s a good team so we’ve got to bring it.

“Like every game we play, it starts with our mindset and approach. We take pride in our level of intensity and preparation in all phases of the game. We need to bust our butts for 32.

“JJ and Aaron have been solid for us all season long. They’re young and have grown on the fly. The beauty of this team is that on any given night someone steps up and stars in their role. Senior leaders Makani Tanaka, Bailey Bumanglag, Zac Tenn and Jack Jones have all had big moments for us. Sophomore Nela Taliauli is explosive off the bench, Freshman big man Mana Lau Kong has really improved and Casey Lyons provides length. Junior Akila Indalecio plays some really great spot minutes at the guard spot. It’s awesome to see the growth in this team and trust and belief in each other.”

* * * * *

Saint Louis (17-2, ILH champion, top seed) vs. Kahuku (13-2, OIA third place)
Current Top 10 ranking: Saint Louis is No. 1; Kahuku is No. 6
Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., Moanalua gym

This battle pits the No. 1 seed with a Kahuku squad that was unbeaten until the OIA semifinal round. It also showcases Saint Louis’ 6-4 wing scorer, Aiva Arquette, and Kahuku’s 6-3 wing (and rebounding machine) Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola.

Punahou coach Dan Hale led Punahou to a state title in 2008. Saint Louis last won a state title in 1986 under Kaipo Spencer. The Crusaders have not reached the semifinal round at states since ’03.

The Saint Louis Crusaders are seeded first in the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Photo courtesy of Carson Lee.

Dan Hale, Saint Louis

“Kahuku plays a very physical style of basketball and they are very good at it. Amari is very talented and a threat inside and out. They kill teams on the offensive boards. Brandyn (Akana) does a great job of utilizing the physicality and athleticism of his team.

“Both teams are similar in their approach as far as going inside out. How well we play D and control them on the boards will be difference for us.

“We are healthy and rested.

“All our guys have been reliable with regards to performing their role on the team. I think Cole has had a great year and has really exceeded what we expected from him. He is a top notch defender.

“When you get to the state tournament ,all the teams are good and the pairings reflect that. We get the OIA 2 and 3 on our side, and Mililani gets the ILH 2 and 3 on theirs. Mix in the neighbor island champs, and you have a good tournament. My biggest change would be to have Blaisdell or the Stan Sheriff for all the rounds. These are great venues to play in and are a great reward for the teams that made it in. At the very least for the quarter finals on.”

Kahuku (13-2) draws top-seeded Saint Louis in the quarterfinal round of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Photo courtesy of Brandyn Akana.

Brandyn Akana, Kahuku

“Winning the ILH title says a lot about Saint Louis. They are a very balanced team both inside and outside. They play pressure defense and feed off of turnovers. They control the boards with their size and have the guards to control the game. They can play the halfcourt game or push it in transition. They do a lot of things well, which is why they hold the top seed in the HHSAA Tournament.

“I think we match up well with Saint Louis. We have good size and we play physical. We also like to push the ball in transition and look to control the boards. Both teams have players that can go for 30 points during a game. Keys for us are to control the boards, play tough defense, and get good shots. This will be a very fun game to watch.

“The health of our team has been pretty good. We have some minor injuries, but should be fine. With a compact season like this, it’s important to be healthy as a team especially in the post season. This will be a fun tournament.

“Our seniors have been reliable for us. We have a great group of guys and they keep battling on the floor. Our post players keep improving over the season. They have become a strength for our team.

“Should be a very exciting tournament. You have the three best ILH, OIA, and the two regular season champs from Maui and the Big Island teams competing this weekend. Unlike other years, you have 4-5 teams that could win it all. I know all teams and coaches are excited to get started.”

* * * * *

Baldwin (10-4, MIL champion, fourth seed) vs. Kailua (14-2, OIA runner-up)
Current Top 10 ranking: Baldwin is No. 9; Kailua is No. 5
Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., Moanalua gym

Unlike their OIA foes, Kailua is often the taller team in games. This time, the Surfriders will be looking up to a big maroon and sky blue wall. Junior guard Jonny Philbrick has been too quick even for the bigger teams in the ILH, but Baldwin’s interior goes 6-7, 6-6 and 6-6.

The Baldwin Bears celebrated their MIL championship with family members of former Bears player Mafatini Mafatini, who recently died in an accident on the mainland, coach Cody Tesoro said. Photo courtesy of Cody Tesoro.

Cody Tesoro, Baldwin

“I’m very impressed with their team and how tough, scrappy and well disciplined they are. That’s just a testament to their coaching staff. They are very well coached.

“At this point in the season all teams are relatively evenly matched. Our success will be based on maximizing every possession both offensively and defensively and doing the little things.

“Adjustments needed to be made due to this COVID guidelines and protocols, but we’ll put forth our best effort with the players available.

“Our three bigs (Hudson Yarbrough, Quintan Akaka and Avery Pauole) have done well when they were able to get on the court.

“We had two of our guards who played heavy minutes unable to finish the season and we had to deal with COVID issues. Our backups stepped up into starter roles tremendously.

“I thought it was very well put together and excited to see how everything pans out. The field is tough and it’s about playing your best 3 games to win that state championship.”

Walter Marciel, Kailua
“Baldwin’s strength is their size. They are huge and very athletic. They start two 6-6 and one 6-7 wing/post players. They press full court and push up the ball. There coaching staff does an outstanding job preparing their players every year.
“Our goal is to block out and limit Baldwin to one shot. Their size is like Kahuku. We need to be patient and let the game come to us.
“Reliability — everyone on the team has exceeded expectations this season. From our starting lineup to our reserves that give us good minutes. Our saying all year has been next man up. These last two weeks of practice have been at the highest level. We told the guys that with the shortened season we need each practice at game speed. The guys have stepped it up.
“The state tourney field of teams is outstanding. All leagues are well represented. The committee does an outstanding job each year with the bracket pairings.

* * * * *

Mililani (14-1, OIA champion, second seed) vs. Maryknoll (11-6, ILH third place)
Current Top 10 ranking: Mililani is No. 6; Maryknoll is No. 3
Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gymnasium

This is a classic chess match between former Spartan players who were mentored by one of the greatest of all time, Tony Sellitto. Kelly Grant was a standout guard at Maryknoll before playing at Hawaii Pacific. He coached Kaimuki to a state title in 2007 before guiding Maryknoll to championships in ’19 and ’20.

Second-seeded Mililani is gearing up Maryknoll in the quarterfinal round of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Paul Honda/

Garrett Gabriel, Mililani

“Maryknoll is a very disciplined and well-coached team. Has variety of scorers on offense and everything is predicated off of their defense. What else can you say about them? They play like the two-time defending state champs and won’t give in to anything you do. They like to play at a slower pace than most and get into lots of different sets to get the players they want in a good position to score the basketball. They also like to control the tempo and play at the pace they like to play.

“In terms of comparison we both like to play defense and understand that that often leads to offensive transition. We have a bunch of guys that can score on any given night and so do they. Our key to success is taking care of the ball. Can’t turn over the ball and expect to beat a great team like Maryknoll. Rebounding is important, too. Can’t give them second and third shots at the basket.

“Overall health of team has been good with just a few injuries here and there.

“I believe Jayden Kīpapa and Creighton Ofsonka have been very reliable off the bench, as well as Brayden Yadao. No individual has exceeded expectations. Maybe our team as a whole, but we felt throughout the season that we were a good team that can play with anyone in the state.

“Don’t really have much thought on the seeding and pairings cause at this point you’re going to play a team that is very well coached and talented. Obviously, if you look at our bracket it’s tough where you would have to go through possibly three ILH teams to win, which is the ultimate challenge.”

The Maryknoll Spartans have won the last two Division I state championships (2019, ’20). Photo courtesy of Kelly Grant.

Kelly Grant, Maryknoll

Coach Grant deferred rather than comment about an opponent. Last week, he had a few insights on Kamehameha-Maui, and the Spartans escaped with a 44-34 win against the Warriors in Pukalani on Monday.

The fascinating aspect of two Maryknoll alums coaching against each other is that Mililani has shown a strong willingness to play at a slower pace. When the Trojans beat Kailua for the OIA D-I title, the game slowed to a crawl and Mililani didn’t utilize its press very much. And though the teams have height and length, neither has depended on low-post scoring,

Wingman Logan Dias stepped up with 18 points in Maryknoll’s win at KS-Maui. If Mililani doesn’t find a way to counter Dias’ mid-range jumpers, he could have another big night.


  1. AF February 23, 2022 7:13 pm

    Ben Panas daughters played for Hilo HS not Kam-Haw

  2. AF February 23, 2022 7:15 pm

    Ben coached his daughters at Hilo HS

  3. Paul Honda February 23, 2022 7:48 pm


  4. Pakelika February 24, 2022 4:02 pm

    AF can you confirm that Ben Panas coached Ah Chew Goo, Howie Dunham and Dennis Salas?

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