Govs defend title: ‘All guts, all brains’

Farrington's Jake Smith reacted as time ran out on Kahuku. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Farrington’s Jake Smith reacted as time ran out on Kahuku. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

The numbers, oh boy.

The analytics, or whatever you might want to call them, aren’t entirely pretty when Farrington plays basketball. Even winning basketball. How does a team of players 6-foot and under win an OIA championship, knocking off No. 5 Campbell (at Campbell) in overtime, No. 1 Kalaheo (again in OT) and, as of tonight, behemoth No. 2 Kahuku in the final, 48-44?

Farrington began the season hot, hot, hot, picking up where it left off after a runner-up finish at the state tourney last year. The Govs stayed in the Top 3 or so for most of preseason, and then teams began to figure them out. They’re STILL trying to figure the Govs out.

>> Let them launch
Farrington is not a good shooting team. Against Kahuku’s front line of 6-foot-7, 6-6 and 6-5, the Govs shot 13-for-47 in tonight’s OIA final. That’s below 28 percent. That’s great defense on the part of Kahuku, really.

That brings us to this: the Governors snagged nine offensive boards, which may sound par for the course, but in a low-possession game like this, that’s a good number. Let’s wring this out a little more. Out of Farrington’s 51 (or so) possessions, there were 34 misses. They grabbed nine out of those 34 misses for a second chance. Grabbing 26 percent of the available rebounds on Farrington’s own misses may sound like nothing, but I would be surprised if any team got more than 20 percent, or even 15 percent, against Kahuku’s stingy, hungry defense.

In a game this close, every offensive board is a major bonus. Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo, who had a team-high 10 boards, had SIX of them on the offensive glass. He’s 5-10. When Govs coach Allan Silva talks about his team playing on “all guts, all brains” down the stretch while they were dog-tired, this is what he’s talking about.

“I kneeled down in the middle of the court and prayed,” Tatupu-Leopoldo said of shooting free throws in the fourth quarter. “I asked our heavenly father for guidance and he was able do that for us. We just had to believe.”

He made just one of his four FT tries in the final quarter, but you get the point. When the Govs were running on fumes, they turned to a higher power, and the fact that they played with a great deal of trust — sharing the ball, resetting the offense when Kahuku’s long, big defenders clogged every inch of space — is a sign of championship thinking.

It’s a mindset that carried the Govs to the throne. David fought Goliath again and again in the trenches and won.

Kahuku’s numbers? The Red Raiders shot a nice 47 percent (16-for-34), but committed 22 turnovers. Very few teams will win with more giveaways than field goals. And on those 18 misses from the field, Kahuku gathered only five offensive rebounds. I’m not sure, but that has to be a season-low for Big Red.

Five offensive caroms out of 18 misses is a decent percentage (28 percent), it’s true. But this is Kahuku, and my guess is they normally grab five offensive rebounds in a quarter, not an entire 32 minutes.

When you average nearly a point per possession (44 points on roughly 51 possessions), that puts the 22 turnovers into perspective.

Kahuku's Denhym Brooke drives to the basket over Farrington's Tua Unutoa. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Kahuku’s Denhym Brooke drives to the basket over Farrington’s Tua Unutoa. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

>> Role play
What does it take for a sub-par shooting team to win an OIA title against the top two teams in the state? Jake Smith nailed it squarely after the win over Kalaheo, when he said he normally takes 10 or 11 3-point shots in a half, but looked to move the ball in the postseason — on Silva’s directions.

In the final, he was still picky about shots, taking just 13 in the game, but hitting six — a solid 47 percent from the field. He finished with 25 points, a great number for just 13 attempts, and was also 7-for-9 at the foul line. The Govs shot 15-for-23 at the charity stripe to Kahuku’s 7-for-10. It’s almost mind-blowing that a team of 5-10 and 6-footers had more than double the FT tries as a team as big and post-oriented as Kahuku.

It was enough to upset a lot of loyal Red Raider fans, particularly in the second half when the foul count was in Farrington’s favor. (That later almost balanced out by the final minutes.) One irate fan had to be subdued after the game by an alert Kahuku player from going after officials.

“I couldn’t complain about the referees,” Kahuku coach Alan Akina said. “We weren’t in rhythm. All the hype, not being able to finish. It was the little stuff. The turnovers. The missed free throws. I’m going to tell the guys to forget it. We’ve got to get ready for next week.”

While Kahuku has its set roles — Keanu Akina drained three timely treys — it’s a wonder that a talent like Brooke doesn’t do more offensively. At 6-7, he’s one of the best shooters around, not just at Kahuku, but in the state. His form, his release, that smooth rotation on his shot, and yet, he rarely looks to shoot from mid-range.

Coach Akina said early in the season that Brooke is the best shooter on the team, period. I don’t doubt that, though his son, Keanu Akina, is a proven game-time bomber. But on one crucial possession late in tonight’s game, Brooke took an entry pass on the right elbow, could have easily driven to the hoop and thrown down a dunk — or draw a foul — but he never bothered. It was all about lobbing the ball to Hyrum Harris under the basket, and with two strong Farrington defenders sandwiching him, he never had control of the ball as it went out of bounds.

Brooke averaged just nine points per game at the New Zealand championships in 2014, so this isn’t something new. He defers to Harris, and basically defers to all his teammates. The only time he’s aggressive offensively is on backdoor lobs and fastbreak opportunities.

His stats for tonight: 4-for-5 from the field, 0-for-1 at the foul line, two rebounds, one block and one steal. I love his talent. I just wonder when he’s going to explode on a nightly basis, raining threes and hammering down dunks en masse.

Between him and Avea, another explosive, coast-to-coast style of player, Kahuku would probably be able to score 75 to 80 points on any defense if Coach Akina permitted it. But that’s the catch… he knows his bench is not very big, not very experienced, and not entirely conducive to a helter-skelter pace.

The slower tempo, relying on that sticky 2-3 zone — it’s a formula that worked most excellently for Kahuku in recent weeks. I just wonder if and when Brooke will find his role and embrace the idea of taking more than five shots a night.

For Farrington, the role of perimeter gunner is clearly Smith, even in this modified offense where five players touch the ball and the Govs outwit humongous defenders to get pretty extra-pass layups. Ranan Mamiya is, hands down, the most interesting defender in the world. Against Kalaheo, he turned a fastbreak situation into a cut-at-the-elbow and turn-on-the-jets takeoff that left a defender standing still. He’s got that kind of explosion that made him a first-team all-state weapon on the football field.

Yet, it’s on defense where he’s a one-man wrecking crew, tipping just about any pass within 10 feet at ground level, chest level or above ground. He works within the 2-1-2 press (three-quarter, if you like) with efficiency. Silva doesn’t ask his Govs to go tight on-ball with pressure.

“That was the key, applying pressure,” Silva said. “Kahuku’s a great team. There’s no way we could stand toe to toe with them.”

The Govs let opponents make that first pass, and then a second, and if they get sloppy and try chest passes through it, they often get tipped. Farrington will trap at midcourt, especially when the ball gets over the line, but for the most part, it’s not a hard press to break by a disciplined team.

Harris handled the ball often against it as the safety valve, and then as the ball moved upcourt, as the middle man. He’s reliable. His hoops IQ is outstanding. And yet, that 2-1-2 was enough to take Kahuku out of its normal tempo.

Tua Unutoa, Tatupu-Leopoldo and, to a lesser extent, Montana Liana, all thrive in their roles now. Earlier, when Farrington was stumbling along at 3-3 in the OIA East, plummeting from their lofty ranking, Unutoa seemed like the only Governor willing to attack in the post. He’d make a bucket or two against much taller defenders, but eventually, they’d adjust bring help and he’d be stuck. Farrington, without a surplus of long-range gunners, simply had no way to unlock defenses.

But Tatupu-Leopoldo has stepped up with his shifty, savvy and fundamentally sound decisions in the paint. He doesn’t beat defenders vertically. He moves laterally, using his linebacker strength to back down defenders, always looking for an open teammate, always looking to get a shotblocker in the air. Unutoa does much the same. On one play at the left elbow, he pump faked Brooke 40 inches into the air, and as Brooke landed forward, Unutoa leaned back in and drew the foul.

Just uncanny toughness, intelligence and patience.

If anything, the Govs have learned patience. From Smith to Mamiya — there isn’t anybody aside from Kaleb Gilmore who is as explosive to the rim from the wing that I’ve seen this season — to Unutoa to Tatupu-Leopoldo to Keola Kealoha (who hit a big 3 to start the second half), the Govs have not only learned their roles. They’ve embraced them.

>> Clutch cargo
In the final 8 minutes, the team stats look like this:

• Farrington shot 3-for-6 from the field and 7-for-13 from the foul line, committing four turnovers as Kahuku’s fullcourt press had its share of success.

• Kahuku shot 3-for-9 from the field and 1-for-2 at the line, committing eight turnovers.

Farrington used a 1-2-2 matchup zone with Mamiya at the top/middle for much of the game — and it worked even against Kahuku’s goliaths — but went to man defense in the fourth quarter. Though Unutoa, Tatupu-Leopoldo and Liana weren’t able to get their usual post moves going because of Kahuku’s defensive prowess and size, defensively, the Govs were able to stand their ground in the paint because all three are football strong, country strong, strong as oxen. However you want to put it.

I thought this was going to be a rough matchup for Farrington, which thrived on a slower tempo against Kalaheo and had the strength to outmuscle their tall, but slender, posts. Playing that kind of game against the masters of post play seemed like a long shot. But the Govs showed even more patience offensively than they did against Kalaheo — Silva had his team bring the ball out once they got a 23-20 lead (on Kealoha’s trey) to start the second half.

It wasn’t a pure stall. Kahuku preferred to stay back in its 2-3 zone with token pressure on the ball, possibly because PG Tama Green was still sidelined with an ankle injury after being struck low by Tatupu-Leopoldo on a loose ball in the first half.

That worked for Kahuku, perhaps, but it allowed Farrington to rest its legs. Even as Kahuku went on a run to take a 27-26 lead on Avea’s bank shot on the break, Smith was big. He drove for a layup and three-point play, hitting the foul shot. Then he swished a corner trey for a 32-31 lead.

>> Momentum stolen
Kahuku got a trey from Avea for a 34-32 lead, and after a Farrington turnover, Akina banked in a 30-foot shot from the left side at the buzzer. Kahuku had a 37-32 lead at the end of three quarters. It seemed like the Red Raiders finally had control.

Instead, they went cold and didn’t score for more than 3 minutes. Farrington kept attacking the rim, going to the line. The Govs tied it at 40-all on a follow shot by Tatupu-Leopoldo, and again at 42-all on a layup by Smith.

Avea’s bucket at the rim for a 44-42 lead with less than a minute left seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. Then, as Smith put it, he was able to seize opportunity. Kahuku dropped its 1-3-1 halfcourt trap in the late going, preferring a zone look. Smith raced to the left corner after Avea’s basket brought Kahuku’s fans to their feet.

His teammates pushed the ball upcourt looking for the corner — something they practice 30 to 40 minutes a day, Smith said. It was catch-and-shoot time, and his corner 3 hit all net for a 45-44 lead with 39 seconds remaining.

Kahuku wasted no time, racing upcourt. But Green, who had returned to the game, drove into the paint, ran over a defender and was whistled for an offensive foul. The normally sure-handed, smart decision maker fouled out on the play with 31 seconds to go.

Farrington slipped through Kahuku’s fullcourt press, with Unutoa at the heart of it, dishing a pass to Smith, whose layup made it 47-44 with 20 seconds left.

I know, I know. Some old-timers would’ve preferred for Smith to dribble out and kill more clock before taking a foul. But with the lead at three points and only two go-to 3-point shooters on the floor for Kahuku in Akina and Avea (Green had fouled out), it wasn’t a bad move — as long as the Govs made that layup.

Now this is where I wonder if Brooke will become more of a factor offensively. If the Red Raiders had more will or confidence to use him as a perimeter shooter occasionally, their finally sequence might have gone much differently. Kahuku called time out with 13 seconds left, and Farrington guessed right. As Keanu Akina rolled behind the defense from the right side to the left corner, he was immediately corralled by two Governors. He had already hit three treys, so why wouldn’t Farrington smother him?

He got trapped, his pass back to midcourt along the sideline sailed high, and Smith grabbed it. He hit one of two foul shots with 4.7 seconds left to seal the win.

If Brooke is part of the equation along with Avea and Akina, he might be the open man at the 3-point arc next time. Lord knows he’s tall enough to get the shot off over any defender.

Hindsight. It can be brutal, but after a game as dramatic and nerve-wracking (for fans) as this, I’m can only look ahead to the state tourney. It’s going to be even more unpredictable — and fun — that even I was expecting.

The shift of talent at various programs was on display on a sweltering, muggy night at McKinley. Kahuku had its Kiwi imports in Brooke, Green and Harris, the latter being the MVP of the New Zealand championships last summer. Farrington had Smith, who left Kamehameha before his senior year, and former St. Francis (Division II) hoopsters Mamiya and Kealoha.

It was quite coincidental, by the way, that two of the biggest upsets of the past week were by Kamehameha, which knocked out Saint Louis, and Farrington in its win over Kalaheo.

Now, they are where they are.

“Our coaches said, ‘It’s heart against height’,” said Smith, who played every minute of Farrington’s three playoff games (two in OT) — 106 minutes.

“We stuck to it and battled. Kahuku is a great team,” he said. “We just had to stick in there.”

>> Happy birthday
Former Farrington guard Steven Leopoldo, now the Governors’ girls basketball coach, had the time of his life. His son, Bryce, hit the 10-foot floater to beat Kalaheo in the final seconds of overtime on Tuesday — Steven’s 50th birthday. Now, the Govs have another league title, 32 years after Steven’s team took the title under then-coach Harry Pacarro.

“This is the best birthday gift I could ever get,” he said.


  1. hossana February 20, 2015 12:38 am

    Congrats to an unheralded, undersized, and undermanned FHS basketball team with great coaching beating the Goliaths in Campbell, Kalaheo, and Kahuku. What a run and they certainly earned the title the hard way but they won playing as a team and following the coach’s guidance. FHS deserve every accolade and honors that come their way………….tremendous victory and well-deserved. Nothing more and nothing less.

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