Coaches Tribune: D-II defending champ Kohala in dynamite field

A trip to East Hawaii often brings rewards to the Kohala Cowboys, who open their defense of the Division II boys basketball state title on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Reeve Cazimero.

This group of eight sure is elite.

Kohala is back to defend its 2020 Division II boys basketball state title, but the field from top to bottom is without a weak link. Kaimuki is the No. 2 seed in a bit of a surprise, but the Bulldogs have quality wins over Division I programs like Radford, Moanalua and Kaiser.

Hawaii Baptist, seeded third, may be the most disciplined squad in the bracket, while Kapaa (fourth seed) and Maui Prep (fifth) may have been overlooked, according to at least one coach. The HHSAA seeding committee has been consistent about one key factor: history.

Kapaa has reached the semifinal round just once in D-II state tournament history — in 2009. MPA is in its first state tourney. Both teams are undefeated this season.

It all makes for a highly competitive and unpredictable tournament. The Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships D-II quarterfinal round is on Thursday.

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

Kohala (9-0, BIIF champion, top seed) vs. Waipahu (5-7, OIA runner-up)
Current ranking: Kohala is No. 10 and the defending state champion (2020)
Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., Kalani gym

O’Shen Cazimero, the Cowboys’ standout guard as a sophomore in ’20, is scoring more than 18 points per game while La‘akea Kauka is at nearly 15 ppg.

Kihei Kapeliela, Kohala

“Never really got a chance to watch much of Waipahu’s games this year. It should be a great match up with Waipahu. Of course, we are probably the smaller team, but we’re used to being the smaller team. Key to our success will be our conditioning and discipline.

“Health-wise, we are a little banged up. We finished the (regular) season playing three games — against HPA, Honokaa and Konawaena in five days. Four days later was our BIIF playoffs and championship game.

“Our big three — O’Shen, Koby (Agbayani) and La’a has been constantly leading our team on both sides of the court all season.while our role players filled in real well. Logan Neves has been our sparkplug as of late. He brings a lot of energy and hustle.

“First off, I thought BIIF deserved two spots.well at least a play in game with (the MIL) for their second spot. Over the past years, both BIIF teams made noise up in states. I feel for coach Fred (Wawner) and HPA because that’s a very good team staying home from states.

“Hearing the talk going around, it sounded like Maui Prep and Kapaa would be in the top half of the seedings. Not taking anything away from Kaimuki and HBA. We never got to watch any film on Maui Prep, but after reading up on them i was shocked to see them at No. 5. We need to bring back the 12-team field to D-II.”

Waipahu vaulted into the Division II state tournament with a win over Kalani in the OIA semifinals. Photo courtesy of Randy Sagon.

Randy Sagon, Waipahu

“The defending D-II champions have a good core coming back. They are at their best when an uptempo game is being played. They will pick up fullcourt man and bring massive pressure to cause teams to speed up and make decisions they don’t want to. The chaos combined with their athleticism allows them to score points in bunches.

“We are very similar in personnel as far as being guard driven. We like to apply pressure to force teams to make bad decisions. The key to our success (on Thursday) will be to stay disciplined on defense and offense. Dictate the tempo of the game and grind to end. If we play together, we’ll have a great night.

“The team is healthy and hungry. This is a journey we have been on for year now since last season was cancelled. Now it’s time to let all the hard work pay dividends and get us to our destination.

“I rely heavily on Jacob Galisa as he took the role as floor general. It may not show up in the box scores as him having massive games, but it’s all the intangible things he provides might in and night out that has helped this team to where they are now.

“As a first-year player in our program, Ashton Rivera has taken the role as our primary rebounder. I saw him as being a good addition when he joined, but he gets rebound after rebound. That’s is huge for us as we are not a big team.

“I’m fine with the brackets for now. This year has been such a challenge, I am just glad that we made it through the season healthy, and now competing for a shot at the state title.

“What would be cool is to have a round robin tourney and take the top 2 teams to battle for the championship. I leave the planning to the leagues and HHSAA.”

* * * * *

Kapaa (9-0, KIF champion, fourth seed) vs. Maui Prep (12-0, MIL champion, fifth seed)
Top 10 ranking: Maui Prep was No. 9 early in the season
Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., Kalani gym

MPA had momentum early in the season among coaches and media voting in the Top 10 after wins over Kaiser, Campbell and Saint Louis I-AA. That momo was lost once the regular season began. A torrent of cancelled or postponed games left Na Pueo with lengthy gaps in the schedule.

Drew Triplett (26 ppg) is capable of completely going bonkers as a scorer, pouring in 51 points against Saint Louis I-AA during a 3-0 preseason tour of Oahu. Since a more recent 43-point outburst against Haleakala Waldorf, he has been more of a distributor than shooter.

That has helped Na Pueo become a team with balanced scoring, less predictability and good efficiency through an unbeaten MIL D-II slate.

Dylan Falk (11 ppg), Levi Basurto (12 ppg), Jimmy Falk (9 ppg) and Koenig Biegel (8 ppg) offer height and length. Triplett and Falk are 6-1, Basurto is 6-4, Falk is 6-2 and Biegel is 6-3.

Kapaa, meanwhile, has benefited from the return of sophomore Keaka Kauhane, who grew up playing with the Warriors as younger players, with his father, Kamahalo Kauhane, coaching. He was at Kamehameha — where one of his older brothers graduated a few years ago — and played on the JV team in the late fall, but returned home to Kapaa during the winter break.

The Kapaa Warriors are 9-0 entering the Division II state championships. Photo courtesy of Tood Fuerte.

Kamahalo Kauhane, Kapaa

“We didn’t have much video on them. Maui Prep has an experienced senior-led team. An efficient front line that uses their length well on both ends of the floor. They will apply pressure fullcourt baseline to baseline forcing teams into traps and creating a fast pace. They’re disciplined on both ends of the court. Well-coached and players that execute well.

“We match up quite similar to them. We have an experienced back court in Junior point guard Mikey Questin that’s been controlling our tempo on both ends. He’s been a maestro on offense. Keaka has been our leading this season scorer consistently hitting his shots and handles the point guard position as well creating options for his teammates. Senior guard Kala Rall has been our leader out there someone we’re able to move around in the 1-5 position for us. We’re comfortable as a team with pressure as we practice it daily. Practices have been consistently intense all season long. Our senior leadership has done a great job ensuring that. It pushes out team out of their comfort zone daily.

“The key will be who can handle the other team’s pressure, who can hit their shots on the big stage and controlling the boards. This is a new experience for both teams after a year off from covid so both teams are hungry both teams are 9-0 (in league play) and prepared to be on the court.

Our team is the healthiest it’s been all season. In the beginning of our season our front line forwards, brothers Epoki and Loni TaFea, Solomone Malafu, Moku Tolenoa were all recovering their bodies after their long state football title run. Our trainers and administration have done an outstanding job at keeping our student athletes healthy at Kapaa.

“We match up well with Maui Prep inside and outside. We seem like mirroring images of our style of play. We even both have 9-0 records.

“Our guard play has been very reliable on both ends. They protect the ball really well, have been making good decisions out there and defensively been active. Their production on court has made us consistent.

“We’ve also relied on what our team’s been calling the Polynesian Triangle with our front court. By them being healthier and consistent in the ladder part of our season it comes at the perfect time for us. They’re healthier and moving and running like basketball players. The team has exceeded our expectations. They’ve taken the initiative to work hard during the covid year, work through adversity, work hard as a team and be healthy at the right time.

“A week longer to start tournament would have allowed all teams to prepare better.”

Zach Bailey, Maui Prep

“We’ve done our research on them. They have four really good guards. They drive and kick exceptionally well, create their own shots, take and make tough shots, push transition. They know how to use and read ball screens and they get downhill and make plays.

“For us, it’s about doing what we do well, sticking to our guns, Do what we can control, which is our effort.

“Drew is the heart and soul of our team. He’s the leader, but everyone contributes and you need those parts to have a successful team. He can distribute the ball and allow his teammates to make the plays.

“It’s a fun group to coach, the intellect these guys have, they enjoy being coached and playing.

“We expect them with the work they put in to succeed, to be great and do what they’ve done this year.

“We can only control what we can, which is how we prepare our players. We’re just grateful to be here, to have an opportunity to play and compete for a state championship. For us, it’s about playing to the best of our ability. To have a chance to succeed and win games.”

* * * * *

Kaimuki (12-4, OIA champion, second seed) vs. Le Jardin (12-4, ILH runner-up)
Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., Kaimuki gym

The Bulldogs are on a six-game win streak built on tenacious defense, explosive transition and clutch playmaking. They are also susceptible to turnovers at times, leading to tremendous in-game momentum swings. Seniors Malu Cleveland (16 ppg) and Rashawn Frtiz-Betiru (13 ppg) lead quietly, while sophomores Jeremiah White (9 ppg), Harmon Sio (6-5 center) and Daysen Lupica have become more effective with experience.

Le Jardin has scoring punch from Duke Thomas (16 ppg), Kaiko Alana (11 ppg) and Kai Kimhan (10 ppg). Coach Tim Harrison guided Kailua to the 2009 D-II state championship.

The Kaimuki Bulldogs are 12-4 overall with a six-game win streak coming into the Division II state championships. Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Hightower.

Greydon Espinda, Kaimuki

“Don’t let having only six players on the team fool you. That is a good six players that they have. They have good fundamentals. They can dribble, pass and shoot the ball real good. Nothing fancy, just plain and simple basketball. Coach (Tim) Harrison is a veteran coach. He’s been to the post-season numerous times with Kailua and Kalaheo so he’ll have his players tuned in and ready to play. 

“We are two totally different teams. We are just going to have to play our game and take care of the ball and minimize our mistakes for Le Jardin will make you pay for making mistakes. They have great control of the game. 
“Keys to success will be to not make unnecessary fouls, and play our style of basketball game. 
“Health-wise we are in good shape. We do have a few kids who have minor injuries but nothing that will prevent them from giving their all. The play of Malu and Rashwan is giving us great success. Exceeding expectation is Jeremiah. He is only a sophomore, but handles the ball well. He has also happens to be scoring a lot of points lately, as well as handling the point guard duties.
“My thoughts about the bracket is it is what it is and at the end of the day, just have to show up and play.  All the teams who made it to the tournament are great teams so it really doesn’t matter who you play.”  

Tim Harrison, Le Jardin

“Playing the Bulldogs at their place is going to be a challenge! Their fans are awesome. The players are athletic and apply constant pressure with their press. For us to be successfu,l we will have to keep our poise and not turn the ball over.”

“Duke and Alana will need to continue to score for us. Our sophomore point guard Kai Kimhan has been playing well lately and will need to have a solid game for us to win.

“Thomas and Alana have recovered from injuries and we are pretty much injury free. We only have seven guys on the team, so staying out of foul trouble will also be key.”

* * * * *

Hawaii Baptist (13-3, ILH. champion, third seed) vs. Seabury Hall (8-4, MIL runner-up)
Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., Kaimuki gym

Both teams tested the waters early. HBA lost to D-I Kaiser (61-50) and OIA D-II title contender Kalani (42-37). Seabury Hall lost to D-I Lahainaluna (74-40) and took on eventual MIL D-I champion Baldwin two weeks ago, losing 72-37.

Hawaii Baptist won the ILH D-II crown and enters the state championships as the No. 3 seed. Photo courtesy of Kellen Kaneshiro.

Kellen Kaneshiro, Hawaii Baptist

“Seabury Hall is a very talented team that likes to push the pace. Their main guy is James Judge, who can score from inside and out, so we really need to focus on where he is at all times. Kobe Garcia and Bromo Dorn are also key contributors who can make plays. They are a very well-coached and disciplined team, so we need to make sure we are on top of our game.

“I think both teams match up well against each other and play a similar style. The key for our success will be in our defensive pressure and pace of play. If we can force turnovers and convert them into points, that should work well in our favor.

“We have been extremely lucky so far this season with not having to deal with any major injuries. We have also been lucky that the majority of our team did not catch COVID during the season. I hope this will continue until the tournament is finished.

“Our starting seniors of Joseph Fung, Gabriel McTee, Austin Fujikawa and Evan Yoshishige have been very reliable and have played important minutes for us all season. We are definitely looking at their veteran leadership to guide us through this tournament. We also have a solid group of guys off the bench that is always ready to go. Gabriel and our only non-senior starter, Eli Shibuya (sophomore), have exceeded expectations. Gabe has been such a difference maker for us on the defensive end all season. His defensive prowess often leads to easy buckets for him and for his teammates.Eli has been our most consistent 3 point shooter and ball handler this year. We really rely on him to take care of the ball, get us into our offense, and to hit open shots.

“Being the No. 3 seed, we definitely have a tough road ahead of us. We play a very dangerous team in Seabury Hall in the first round, and if we win, play the winner of Kaimuki and Le Jardin. Kaimuki is a very athletic and fast team. It’s not a surprise that they won the OIA and are very deserving of that title. Le Jardin is in our division, so we know them very well and they handed us our only regular season loss. They have a lot of talent and length and are very well coached. Both teams will be a tough matchup to get to the finals.”

The Seabury Hall Spartans enter the 2022 Heide & Cook/HHASA Division II State Championships with an unusual role: underdogs. Photo courtesy of Scott Prather.

Scott Prather, Seabury Hall

“HBA is a very disciplined and well-coached team that will apply pressure at all levels of the court.  They seem to want to push the ball and the tempo whenever they can to speed up the game.

“Our team’s strength is with our guard play and depth.  Our team will have to protect the basketball and strategically attack their press and shoot a high percentage in order to be successful.

“Our team’s health is improving. We’ve had some injuries recently but our guys are on the mend and will be ready to go.

“Reliable: James Judge. Exceeded expectations: Kobe Garcia and Leo McKuin.

“Brackets look fair to me and each team will pose different challenges to their opponents. Each matchup in the first round should be exciting and we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead of us. Survive and advance, and have some fun along the way!”


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