Hoopbook: Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola averaging 26/7 in Kahuku’s 4-0 start

No. 7-ranked Kahuku is flying high after a season-opening win over Kaiser. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

The All-State, All-ILH (Open, Division I/II), All-OIA (Open, D-I, D-II) football package has consumed the life of this old pupule sportswriter for some time.

It is absolutely zany. Our editors are already up to their necks with the regular work load, and this project puts us all in “Tilt” mode. It is one step beyond, for sure. But it is almost behind us now, which means there’s time for roundball.

So there is much to say about boys and girls basketball. More than a week’s worth. Here we go.

>> Kahuku tames dangerous Tigers

Sometimes, numbers tell a story.

Sometimes, numbers tell us what we already knew. Case in point: Kahuku’s 52-37 win over a gritty McKinley squad on Friday night. The visitors did not attempt a single free throw in the first half. Kahuku led 30-20 at intermission, using tough man-to-man defense to stifle the host Tigers, who committed 12 first-half turnovers.

McKinley managed to pull within 34-30 by the end of the third quarter. On paper, the Tigers limited Kahuku to just four points — two buckets. But in reality, Kahuku shot 1-for-6 at the free-throw line to help the Tigers inch closer.

Then this: Kahuku shot 1-for-8 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. That should’ve been enough to cause a catastrophe for Big Red. Instead, McKinley struggled to protect the basketball, committing five turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were 3-for-6 from the charity stripe in the second half.

That combination, along with 2-for-7 shooting from the field in the fourth stanza, wasn’t for lack of a game plan. McKinley’s methodical approach wasn’t a slowdown, but they were clearly deliberate about shortening the game.

“We controlled the pace,” McKinley coach Duane Omori said.

The blueprint worked for three quarters. Cut the turnovers in half to nine and it’s possibly a different finish.

One thing is certain, though: Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola is a finisher. More so, on the road as Kahuku played on Wednesday and Friday nights at Kalani, then McKinley. Westmoreland-Vendiola had 21 of his 28 points in the second half as Kahuku pulled away from Kalani. Then, on Friday, he scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a runaway.

Strangely enough, Westmoreland-Vendiola only attempted one foul shot, which would have completed a traditional three-point play in the third quarter.

As a team, Kahuku’s 2-for-14 performance at the FT line is something of a bullet point now. As much as they work on it at practice, things could be better.

“We’ve got to work on that,” Westmoreland-Vendiola said. “I feel like we’re just tired, so we need to slow down. We kind of play around with free throws at practice, so we need to take it seriously.”

McKinley senior Ian Venzon led his team with 18 points. Venzon and Westmoreland-Vendiola were teammates in youth basketball during their middle school years. Both defensive-minded athletes with ballhandling, passing, shooting and rebounding skills.

Before high school, Ian Venzon of McKinley and Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola of Kahuku were teammates in youth basketball. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.
Kahuku junior Leonard Ah You wears the black electrical tape and knee-high red socks for football and basketball games. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Football standout Leonard Ah You was in paint patrol mode on Friday. The 6-foot-3 junior, one of the state’s top linebackers and pass rushers, finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. But Kahuku can level up if he and his teammates brush up on their charity-stripe work. Ah You was 0-for-7 at the line, even with a pretty good-looking shooting stroke.

Fatigue, after all, can do a number on the best of athletes — particularly after two long trips to urban Honolulu in a three-day span during the school week.

Come playoff time and state-tournament week, those long bus rides will be unavoidable. If Kahuku can shoot 60 percent at the free-throw line, that would have accounted for six more points against McKinley. It could be the difference between winning an OIA crown or not, reaching the state semifinals or falling to an upstart underdog team in the quarterfinals.

It’s ongoing. We’ve got to get the ball in the basket, especially free throws,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said. “Because we’re an inside out team, we’re going to pound it in. We’ve been practicing on it. We’re going to practice on it more. It’s mental, right? Free throws are mental, so hopefully we turn that corner.”

Akana, a former college player, might be the best free-throw shooter in the program. Westmoreland-Vendiola, though, has the capability to go 10-for-10 on a given night.

The boards are currently owned by Kahuku. Westmoreland-Vendiola had nine, including six on the offensive glass. Ah You had eight rebounds. Point guard Daniel Kaio continues to be one of the better rebounding guards in the OIA. He had five caroms and six assists with four points against McKinley.

Kaio, one of the state’s top wide receivers, figures to ramp up his game along with Ah You. The two returned from football after Kahuku won the Open Division state title three weeks ago.

Update: Kahuku is 4-0 in league play after a 65-30 win over Castle on Tuesday. Westmoreland-Vendiola poured in 27 points in 16 minutes of play.

His points and rebounding numbers to date:

Kaiser: 25/6
Kalani: 28/11
McKinley: 23/9
Castle: 27/3

That averages out to 25.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

The unique quality of Westmoreland-Vendiola’s game is that he isn’t hunting for shots, necessarily. He hit three treys against Castle, but if he really wanted to be a points machine, Westmoreland-Vendiola would simply live on the block all game long. With a 41-inch vertical and quick hops, he is an offensive rebounding machine with few peers. At 6-3, his hidden value might be right where he is, which is normally on the perimeter. His ability to see over fullcourt pressure and handle the rock like a point guard is a huge advantage for Big Red.

Westmoreland-Vendiola has a 3.4 grade-point average.

The veteran leadership of Aiva Arquette and Hayden Bayudan has No. 1 Saint Louis atop the ILH standings. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

>> Aiva Arquette is all business

Saint Louis has one of the best baseball players in school history. The Crusaders also have one of the best basketball players in school history. But it is quite rare that one student-athlete is both. Aiva Arquette’s senior year is off to a scintillating start. The 6-4 wing pumped in 21 of his 23 points in the first half as No. 1 Saint Louis edged No. 4 Kamehameha, 70-62, on Thursday night.

It was one of the better ILH regular-season openers in recent memory. The league has been the graveyard of sorts for high-scoring hoopsters over the decades. Many have arrived at the varsity level, capable of scoring 20, 25 points a night, only to become mired in old-school, knock-down, drag-out combat on the hardwood.

A combined 132 points in ILH Division I play is far from the norm. A reversion back to 80 to 90 points for any league game would not surprise, but this 2021-22, post-COVID cancelled-season era is shaping up differently. Maybe.

From Westmoreland-Vendiola to Arquette to 6-5 EJ Kapihe to 6-4 Kahiau Bruhn of Kamehameha to the talented guards of ‘Iolani — freshman JJ Mandaquit, sophomore Aaron Claytor and senior Jack Jones — the pandemic hasn’t been able to stop many of the state’s top players from developing and improving since the previous official high school season in 2019-20.

The lack of preseason game and practice time is a downer for coaches who thrive on preparation. Is there a bigger gap this season between elite players and those who barely touched a basketball during the pandemic? Possibly. Trey Lieb of Mililani stayed busy through the offseason and is helping the Trojans steer toward a potential OIA championship. 2020 Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection O’Shen Cazimero of Kohala has been a constant. The Cowboys drive the 122-mile round trip to Hilo for summer league action or fly to Oahu for the postseason, but they are quite possibly the best team in the BIIF regardless of classification.

Drake Watanabe and Peyton Macapulay are a dynamic backcourt that will become more consistent by the day. Ehu Schenk-Lee of Kalaheo is averaging more than 20 points per game. Rashawn Fritz-Betiru and Malu Cleveland are energizing Kaimuki, which has lost several close games, but should begin its ascent by the OIA D-II playoffs. The list goes on.

Aka Kauhane transferred back home to Kapaa from Kamehameha, where he played on the JV team during the ILH’s altered fall schedule. Now playing for his father, coach Kamahalo Kauhane, the sophomore guard scored 20 points as Kapaa defeated Waimea, 62-46, in the KIF opener last week. Michael Questin added 19 points for the Warriors.

KIF play was put on hold for the past week. Kapaa will meet Island on Tuesday.

Kapaa looks like the favorite in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation. Photo courtesy of Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island.

Damien lost momentum from its recent runs in Division II, then D-I with graduation and the departure of coach Alvin Stephenson. The future, however, looks bright with freshman guard Caelan Fernando, who scored 25 points in a loss to Kamehameha last week. Under coach Keith Spencer, the Monarchs opted to stay in D-I, which should prove fruitful for Fernando and other future Damien hoopsters.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Spencer said.

Zelston Militante of Nanakuli is earning a reputation among coaches, as well. The junior guard poured in 22 points as the Golden Hawks defeated Aiea on Wednesday.

The loop brings it back to Westmoreland-Vendiola and Arquette, two hoopsters who are uniquely skilled and athletic. Both can bang in the post, though Westmoreland-Vendiola has an unmatched bounce on the offensive glass. Arquette has transformed from a perimeter shooter into a versatile scorer who is strong enough to post up and finish at the rim. He also had seven boards and four assists in that spectacular first half against Kamehameha.

Update: Bayudan scored 18 points and Arquette had 11 points and nine boards in Saint Louis’ 47-39 win over No. 2 ‘Iolani on Tuesday at the sparkling new-ish Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Center. Saint Louis is now 3-0 entering a showdown at Punahou on Thursday night.

>> The haves and have-nots in girls hoops

While No. 1 ‘Iolani and No. 2 Konawaena establish their fiefdoms once again with unbeaten records against Hawaii teams, there is a noticeable gap that has grown between the powerhouses and the programs that have declined in recent seasons.

Certainly, the pandemic and the closure of gyms — and parks — are a major factor. ‘Iolani hasn’t been utterly dominant, but the Raiders keep winning with an influx of new starters and the 1-2 combo of Jovi Lefotu and Jaety Mandaquit.

While ‘Iolani tested its mettle during the ‘Iolani Prep Classic, Konawaena may have been forged in a bigger furnace while playing in the Nike Tournament of Champions in December. The Wildcats, with Kaliana Salazar-Harrell scoring more than 30 points per game in BIIF play, haven’t been tested at all since returning home with one exception: a relatively close 47-32 win on the road at Waiakea last week. Sharpshooter Braelyn Kauhi and guard Kayla Pak also lead another small, but extremely effective roster of eight players.

It wasn’t so long ago when the BIIF had parity and talent across the island. Honokaa was a force under Daphne Honma. Kohala had some highly competitive teams for a stretch with Annette Marquez and Kim Caravalho leading the way. Even Kealakehe was competitive in its early years, fed by the A‘oia basketball club. Kamehameha-Hawaii has been solid in Division II, and is currently 3-1 with a 35-26 loss at Waiakea nearly two weeks ago.

Hilo, Waiakea and Konawaena don’t get much of a battle these days, but all three are in the current Star-Advertiser Top 10.

Shania Moananu and Laynee Torres-Kahapea are two reasons why Punahou is making a surge in the ILH. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Punahou and Kamehameha have given ‘Iolani some fits in their battles during the past week. Punahou’s ability to press and knock down 3s in halfcourt offense has been eye-opening. Shania Moananu, Kuualoha Lloyd and Laynee Torres-Kahapea — the younger sister of former Kailua all-state player Everett Torres-Kahapea — may be as lethal as any trio statewide.

Maryknoll is in the mix, dropping a couple of games early in a long ILH season. Maui? The MIL’s top team is 4-0 in league play, winning by margins of 47, 40 and 33 points against D-I foes Baldwin, Kamehameha-Maui and King Kekaulike in the first go-round. Kayla Thornton leads a group of Sabers that could benefit from more off-island competition. Thornton had 17 points and eight steals in the win over Baldwin, a program that hasn’t been quite the same since the years of Kami Kapaku.

In a similar scenario, Konawaena and longtime, legendary coach Bobbie Awa have found ways to peak at the state tournament for more than a decade.

Lahainaluna, under first-year head coach Iolani Kaniho, is within range after a 67-62 loss to Maui in late December. The rematch on Jan. 8 was postponed and the two programs aren’t scheduled to play again until next Wednesday.

Is Campbell (7-2 overall) for real? The Sabers lost to ‘Iolani (59-27) and Damien (52-50) in preseason, but have handled foes in the OIA West without resistance. The exception was a 39-37 homecourt win over then-No. 10 Radford last week. Other than that, Campbell has trounced West competition by 18 points or more. Remaining games: Leilehua, at Waianae, Nanakuli.

If there’s a third level statewide, it might include Campbell, Roosevelt, Sacred Hearts, Kahuku, Damien, Mid-Pacific and Hanalani. Damien used a 21-5 second-quarter run to beat Sacred Hearts on Monday, getting 24 points from Theresa Anakalea. She was 5-for-9 from the 3-point arc.

Damien, SHA, MPI and Hanalani are all in ILH D-II. The reality is that OIA D-I has more in common with ILH D-II than ILH D-I. Whether it’s shrinking numbers or more emphasis by parents on offseason club play in volleyball, soccer and softball, athletes in girls sports are gravitating away from hoops. The elite playing level is still high, but depth is much different than it was 10 and 20 years ago.

One of the potential sleepers may be Pearl City if Lishae Scanlan suits up. The Chargers are 2-6 in OIA West play and will have a fair shot at a D-II state-tournament berth with Scanlan, who was a Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection as a sophomore two years ago with Hanalani.


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