DAY 1 STATE BASKETBALL: Damien on business trip, Kalaheo likes matchups with Maryknoll

Damien's Bryce Forbes (22) attempted a shot over Kamehameha guard Xavier Lever (32) during the first half of a game this season. Photo by John Lujan/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Just like that, the season will be over for four teams by the end of today.

Last year’s Division II state champion, Damien, ventures off island for the first time since flying to California in preseason. The Monarchs fly to Maui and face Lahainaluna, a business trip that will last a mere eight hours on the Valley Island. They will depart Honolulu at 12:30 p.m. and board the return flight at 8:42 p.m. Business trip and only business.

“Everyone is healthy, finally,” Monarchs coach Alvin Stephenson said. “Jake (Holtz) looks to be back at 100 percent.”

Among Holtz’s litany of ailing injuries was a right ankle that he limped on for much of the past month.

Leilehua, the top team out of the OIA West, flies to the Big Island where Waiakea will play host.

The two Oahu sites for the opening round of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball Division I State Championships will have more traditional tip-off times. Kaiser will play at Kahuku in a rematch of OIA East rivals. Kalaheo, which was first in the OIA East before falling in the league semifinal round, will travel to Maryknoll.

Here’s a look at the matchups of unseeded entries.

Leilehua (18-6, 10-0 OIA West) at Waiakea (14-5, 10-2 BIIF), 4 p.m.
Skinny:The Mules pass the eye test for sure. Tall, long, quick and aggressive, Coach Chad Townsend’s squad posted wins over Mid-Pacific, Saint Louis, Kaiser and Kalaheo, all ranked teams. In all, Leilehua played 10 games against Top 10 teams, and against unranked opponents, a sparkling 12-0 mark.

For all of that success, however, the Mules have not left Oahu until now. Waiakea had plenty of tough competition in the BIIF, but in all has met only two Top 10 foes: Punahou and Hawaii Prep. The Warriors lost to Punahou 74-61 at the Surfrider Holiday Classic in early December. They beat Hawaii Prep in overtime, 49-46, in late January.

Coach Paul Lee’s team is 4-1 at home this season. Leilehua was 5-1 on the road.

X-factor:UH-Hilo signee Kia‘i Apele can set the tone for the Warriors against Leilehua’s scrappy man-to-man defense.

Pupule pick:Mules 49, Warriors 41. Leilehua’s strength of schedule has prepared them well for this moment. Waiakea matches up well with Leilehua, but the Mules have been more battle-tested.

Next:The winner plays No. 1 seed Kamehameha at McKinley Student Council Gymnasium on Wednesday.

Damien (17-14, 6-6 ILH) at Lahainaluna (12-5, 7-3 MIL), 4:30 p.m.
Skinny:The Monarchs were 6-6 in the regular season, then edged Saint Louis and Mid-Pacific to qualify for the state tourney. With the seven-day break between games, Damien is as healthy as it has been in weeks, maybe months. They lost to defending state champion Maryknoll 55-51 in the ILH semifinal.

“I don’t know much about Lahainaluna. I know in the past when we played them, the are some tough and disciplined kids. We know we have to bring our ‘A’ game playing them,” Stephenson said.

First-year Lunas head coach Nick Webb had big shoes to fill, following the successful reign of previous coach Jason Justus, The Lunas saw their 53-game MIL win streak end against Baldwin, and after losses to Maui and again to Baldwin, there was work to be done. Lahainaluna won its final six games in league play, then defeated Maui in the semifinals for a state berth.

Damien has 10 wins over Top 10 teams, a feat accomplished only by Kamehameha, Maryknoll and Punahou. Lahainaluna? No wins over ranked teams, but it has to do with opportunity, as well. The only Top 10 team on the Lunas’ ledger was Kaiser, a game won by the Cougars 56-33 on Molokai in December.

X-factor:Lahainaluna hasn’t faced at team with this much height since losing to Kahuku 53-43 on Dec. 13. Damien’s Bryce Forbes (6-7), Tino Atonio (6-5) and Holtz (6-3) are game-changers.

Pupule pick:Monarchs 61, Lunas 52. Playing at its school gym in the afternoon rather than at a packed Lahaina Civic at night is a major factor.

Next:The victor has the task of facing OIA champion Moanalua at Moanalua’s gym on Wednesday.

Kalaheo (21-10, 10-1 OIA East) at Maryknoll (27-4, 10-2 ILH)
Skinny:The Mustangs were striding ahead in the OIA and ranked as high as No. 3 in the Top 10 when 6-4 senior Bobby Thompson went down with a wrist injury. Without him, Kalaheo struggled in an eight-point loss to Moanalua and a 13-point loss to Leilehua. Finding that right mix and chemistry takes time when a key contributor goes down. Kalaheo is more 3-dependent now, and when those shots aren’t falling, they miss Thompson most.

Kalaheo does have one of the most effective post players in the state with Andrew Jones. At 6-5 with strong, yet slinky body control in the paint, his left-handed release is a problem for most defenders. His footwork between the blocks must be seen to be believed, not just for the effectiveness, but for the sometimes unorthodox timing and pivoting.

When the teams met on Dec. 5, Maryknoll won 45-37.

X-factor:The Spartans can counter with 7-foot sophomore Sage Tolentino, who could have five blocks and five fouls before it’s done. On the other end, Jones doesn’t normally defend at the 3-point arc, but Tolentino’s range as a stretch-5 could make this very interesting.

Another key is how Kalaheo covers 6-4 slasher Niko Robben. The Mustangs could use 6-2 Kanoa Smith to wall off Robben.

“Sage can wall up on anyone. Stall ball concerns me, but I like our matchups,” Kalaheo coach Rob Pardini said.

Post scorer Liko Soares has been a matchup issue for just about every team on Maryknoll’s schedule.

Pupule pick:Spartans 45, Mustangs 39. Kalaheo plays valiantly, but in the end, the void left behind by Thompson’s injury is too tough to fill against the tough Spartans.

Next:The Maryknoll-Kalaheo winner meets BIIF champion Kamehameha-Hawaii at Moanalua on Wednesday.

Kaiser (20-8, 8-3 OIA East) at Kahuku (16-6, 9-2 OIA East)
Skinny:After some roller-coaster ups and downs, the Cougars closed the regular season with a stunning 41-40 win over Kahuku. Kaiser then won three of its four playoff games to secure the fifth and final state berth out of the OIA.

Kaiser won five games against Top 10 foes. Kahuku was 3-5 against ranked teams, but overall is 9-0 on its home court. Kahuku has one of the toughest home-court auras in the state, and that long drive to the North Shore has something to do with that. Leilehua is 7-3 in away games, including recent losses to Roosevelt and Leilehua.

X-factor:Kahuku center Oscar Cheng has been dynamite in the playoffs, including a 27-point, 14-rebound effort in the OIA final against Moanalua. Can Kaiser’s Cyrus Singelman neutralize the 6-9 senior?

“Oscar has been playing a lot better in the last couple of weeks,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said. “All his hard work has been showing on the court.”

A loss is not ideal, but Kahuku’s loss to Kaiser two weeks ago was a jolt.

“Kaiser is a very talented team. They are well balanced with a combination of good guards and bigs,” Akana said. “They are a well coached team and have a lot of experience. Definitely a dangerous team going into the post-season.”

Pupule pick:Red Raiders 51, Cougars 44.

Next:The Kaiser-Kahuku winner will play MIL champion Baldwin at McKinley on Wednesday.


  1. Loca1boi February 17, 2020 4:18 pm

    Paul, you know full well Cheng ain’t no 6’9″. That is very much a stretch.

  2. Pupule Paul February 17, 2020 10:03 pm

    That’s what Coach Akana says and has him listed as. When I interviewed him last summer, I couldn’t tell if he was 6-9 or less or more. I’m 5-11 and he’s in the clouds.

  3. 88 February 19, 2020 6:49 pm

    Who cares if he’s 6’9… The kid is rebounding and scoring and his team is winning. Hopefully this leads to a chance at free education at the next level. That’s what it’s all about right?

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