For minutes — long, heart-stopping minutes — ‘Iolani basketball fans were living the dream.
Tough interior defense against the giants of No. 1-ranked Montverde Academy. A motion offense that kept the Eagles occupied, freeing up Frank Felix and Sam Wheeler for 3-point bombs. The Raiders led 6-2, the bleachers were vibrating from extreme decibel levels, and all was well in the Raider basketball galaxy.
The frenzy of ‘Iolani’s crowd each time their team made a big stop — Montverde didn’t score on its first three possessions — and every time the ball splashed home, the roar was something that hasn’t been heard in some time. That’s what a capacity crowd in this gym can do.
Montverde eventually rolled to a 94-33 quarterfinal victory in the ‘Iolani Prep Classic. The nation’s premier high school basketball program showed what teamwork and unselfishness and toughness are like. Harlond Beverly led with 17 points, leading five scorers in double figures. As a team, the Eagles shot 18-for-19 from the free-throw line.
The night wasn’t just about numbers, though. For ‘Iolani, the spirit was alive, and for a few minutes, the mighty Eagles seemed almost human.
“ ‘Iolani came out with a lot of heart and energy. Gave us a very tough first quarter,” Montverde coach Kevin Boyle said. “We started a bigger lineup, which we thought would have some problems matching up and turning the ball over. Too much size against a lot of guards who can pass. Coach (Dean Shimamoto) does a really nice job with them. They’re really well-schooled and well-coached.”
Even with the inevitable, almost infinite differences between Montverde and most high school teams, even storied state championship programs like ‘Iolani, Boyle had to weather the storm with his hoopsters.
“You know, we went smaller to match up and we thought at that point, we could start turning them over and start turning defense into offense. In the second quarter, we just really turned it up and wore them down. Our depth of having more guys, it wears teams down,” Boyle said.
‘Iolani never wilted. Even as Montverde’s depth and fullcourt pressure took a toll. The Raiders kept attacking, kept playing defense best they could, from the starting five to the last reserve. Players like Carter Kamana, a 6-3 junior who excels in football and wanted to played extended minutes on the hardwood Thursday night. He’s so physical in basketball now, he plays more like a defensive end than a wide receiver.
“He wanted to play more, but I had to remind him, he’s in our regular rotation,” Shimamoto said, noting that there are two more days of the Classic to play. “He’s so competitive.”
As for Montverde, they have delivered and then some.
“They’re every bit of what we expected,” said Shimamoto, who has guided ‘Iolani to three state titles. “They’re not the No. 1 team in the country by mistake. They’re long. They’re athletic. They play good basketball. They can hit shots. They’re a really good team. We just wanted our guys to compete. Try and attack, do some things we hope to be able to do during the season, and see how it goes.”
Shimamoto hasn’t forgotten the Montverde team of 2017-18 that won the Classic, finished first nationally and featured R.J. Barrett, now with Duke.
“It feels about the same. This team is a little different than last year’s Montverde team, and our team is a little different from last year’s ‘Iolani team. I think we shoot it a little better this year. That team was a little more guard-heavy. Three D-I guys. But they’re equally as potent in other ways. They make up for it,” he said.
The memories of playing the nation’s No. 1 team will be eternal.
“Unbelievably fun. I mean, lifetime experiences for our guys. For their families,” Shimamoto added. “Really, when you’re going up against a team that’s good, I don’t know that you expect to win, but you expect to have your guys compete, and hopefully make memories for a lifetime.”