HBA’s fullcourt press is baptism by fire for Seabury Hall

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 doesn’t call it “32 minutes of hell,” but for opponents facing Hawaii Baptist’s tenacious fullcourt press, it often turns out that way.

Back in the day, Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson called his team’s utter devotion to fullcourt pressing, “40 Minutes of Hell.” John Thompson had his furious defenders at Georgetown pressing from start to finish, too. All he wanted was to wear his opponent down in those last four minutes. Often enough, in an even battle, his foes did crumble in the late going.

Scores for Georgetown were sometimes in the 50s, even the 40s, but watching that remarkable intensity was almost hypnotizing. That’s where HBA is under new head coach Kaneshiro. The Eagles may not pump in double-digit 3-pointers like they used to, but they do the boa constrictor squeeze on unprepared teams.

Tired teams make mental errors, and that’s where the Eagles win the math. Taking care of the ball, valuing each possession and negating as many possessions as possible by their opponents.

With a 54-39 win over Seabury Hall on Thursday, third-seeded HBA advanced to the semifinal round of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball Division II state championships. The Eagles will meet second-seeded Kaimuki, winner of seven consecutive games, including a 74-61 barn-burner against Le Jardin on Thursday.

Tip-off at Kalani High School gym is set for 7 p.m. The other semifinal between top seed Kohala and fifth seed Maui Prep will begin at 5 p.m. in Kalani’s gym.

In HBA’s quarterfinal victory, Austin Fujikawa scored 12 points and Eli Shibuya added 10 to lead the way. Seabury’s James Judge got his fill — 16 points and 13 rebounds — but HBA survived and advanced. The Eagles allowed Seabury Hall to hit only 12 field goals in 39 attempts (31 percent), and the Spartans had 20 turnovers, including five by Judge.

Those takeaways were crucial on a night when HBA shot just 17 percent at the free-throw line — 10 for 29. The Eagles also had 23 turnovers.

“We need to at least win the turnover battle against Kaimuki to have a shot,” Kaneshiro said.

That’s why, often times, it boils down to defense. The one thing the Eagles or any team can truly control. Effort. Intensity. Teamwork.

The Eagles shot a very respectable 48 percent (21 for 44) from the field, and they hustled for 13 offensive boards against the bigger Spartans. HBA also limited Seabury Hall to only seven offensive boards.

Next up, the Eagles and Bulldogs clash. Two pressing teams with ultimate persistence.

“We need to be able to handle their pressure for sure, but they have much more size than we do,” Kaneshiro said. “I don’t know if they necessarily remind me of any team off the top of my head. They are so unique in that they have athleticism, length and shooting.”

Kaneshiro was still in high school in 2000 when HBA played eventual state champion Hilo.

“That Hilo team comes to mind,” he said.

As HBA’s relentless on-ball pressure bringing hellfire to opposing teams, Kaneshiro doesn’t quite see it like that. He does like what Richardson and Thompson brought to the 94-feet-of-pressure game.

“I think a combination of both of those philosophies is what helps us be successful,” Kaneshiro added. “We want to keep our foot on the gas like coach Richardson would preach, but we want to be focused and apply pressure in those last, most important four minutes.”


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