The ‘Iolani Prep Classic, born in 1983, is the nation’s leading preseason high school basketball tournament.
The matchups between teams in consolation play are closer and more competitive than usual. Yet, a mile up the road, the hoop wars are immense and intense at the Punahou Invitational. Five teams in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 are battling in Hemmeter Fieldhouse.
On day one (Wednesday), the favorites advanced in the 16-team bracket. On Thursday, some interesting results.
>> Kamehameha-Hawaii over Hawaii Baptist, 51-49. KS-Hawaii is young and, in a way, rebuilding. HBA lost some talent and leadership to graduation, but Max Weimken remains. He scored 34 points last week in a loss to Radford, but the door of opportunity is there for him to score at a major rate as a center who is proficient inside and from the arc.
>> Hilo has lost to No. 10 Kamehameha and Fleetwood Park. Injuries have been a key part of the Vikings’ preseason journey, and the loss to Fleetwood was close, 45-44.
>> Kalani’s learning curve
The Falcons have lost to Leilehua and Kapolei. The losses are to solid teams, and Leilehua, in particular, has improved significantly since early preseason. They had their ups and downs at the week-one James Alegre Invitational, but they’re coming along. Kapolei is progressing despite an injury to one of the top guards in the OIA, Ja’Shon Carter.
Kalani has a solid nucleus that includes Isaiah Lee, Ryan Higashionna and post scorer Brandon Chung.
>> Radford is young, full of potential
The Rams are probably — this pupule’s opinion — going to put it together and make a run. It’s just a matter of when. The Rams lost to very experienced and talented Maryknoll squad on Wednesday, 67-40, but bounced back with a 57-46 win over a very capable Kaiser team a day later. The development of sophomores Dimonyai Lacey and Emmanual Stevenson will help, but the scrappy nature of this team comes from battlers like Matt Lukins. This squad has just one senior, so there’s a lot of nice future here.
>> Punahou II is scary
For weeks, the D-II — technically, I-AA — Buffanblu have beaten a host of quality teams. Thursday was the first time they nearly knocked off a Top 10 team, losing to No. 10 Kamehameha 60-56. There have been a good number of D-II/DI-AA teams that landed in the Top 10 during preseason, boys and girls. Many of those teams were from Punahou.
This Punahou D-II boys team has played as often as the Harlem Globetrotters, except more. They’re already 11-5 (1-0 ILH D-II). It’s nice to have a coach who gives his D-II players every chance to play the best teams from the OIA and everywhere else. They have losses to Kalaheo (56-46) and Roosevelt (before Micah Visoria’s injury), as well as Kaiser. There are wins over Campbell (64-61), Kaiser (yes, the same Cougars, 70-48), and a second victory over Campbell (45-43).
The rest of the schedule is textbook ILH D-II with tough foes like University, but the most challenging will be Damien, which opened the season at No. 1.
>> How ‘bout them Monarchs
Damien’s young squad did it again, stunning No. 3 Maryknoll 55-47 in the quarterfinals of the Punahou Invitational. That is Maryknoll’s first loss after 12 wins. Damien (14-1) is going to run out of consistently tough competition when the preseason tournament slate ends soon.
Next up, Damien meets a young, very talented Kamehameha squad in the semifinals today. A win there would possibly pit Damien with Punahou for a second time. Punahou is thirsting for that opportunity after losing to the Monarchs at Damien three weeks ago.
Damien’s record against Top 10 teams: 5-1.
>> Ride on, Mustangs
The injury bug has hit plenty of teams, including Kalaheo, but they’ve had some time to heal up recently. The result: wins over Kapolei and the rapidly-improving Leilehua Mules.
Now the Mustangs will face host Punahou. They’ve already met twice. Punahou won 53-48 on Nov. 29 (Alegre Invitational) and 81-79 on Dec. 7 (OIA-ILH Challenge).
The injuries, the competitiveness, all the reasons why Kalaheo is dangerous is why voters haven’t bumped the Mustangs from the Top 10 yet. They have enough talent to make runs deep in the OIA playoffs and state tournament. They may be the best 9-7 team in recent memory.
>> Buffanblu verve
Punahou has won 11 games in a row since falling to Damien. Along the way, coaches and media pushed them ahead of the Monarchs to No. 1. Then they bumped the Buffanblu to No. 2 behind ‘Iolani. The one constant is Punahou’s balanced offense, with reliable low-post scoring by Duke “Mr. Reverse Layup” Clemens and the high-energy fullcourt pressure that gets the most out of the entire roster.
‘Iolani, Punahou, Maryknoll. They make sure preseason meetings are avoided, for good reason. Damien and St. Francis have faced those three league leaders. Kamehameha has met Maryknoll, losing in the final of the Kaimuki Invitational. Saint Louis has played St. Francis, winning in overtime.
All the preseason turbulence sets up quite an interesting ILH season ahead. St. Francis ascent into D-I means the league gets a much-coveted third berth in the state tournament. Imagine if somehow the league allowed Damien into D-I. Never mind.
>> ILH musical chairs
Coming into the week, Kamehameha, ‘Iolani and Punahou had taken turns beating each other in girls hoops. Now it’s Maryknoll that has beaten the young Buffanblu, so the girls basketball chase is officially unpredictable.
It’s getting less predictable in the OIA, too. Kahuku came to No. 3 Kalani and won 51-48. The Lady Falcons have struggled since Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole and Alayna Akana went down with injuries, but Kahuku played without All-State Fab 15 center Sisilia Kaufusi, but PG Leiah Naeata pumped in 22 points to lead the way.
Yes, it’s that time of year when Kahuku begins to make huge strides.
>> Kaimuki 34, Anuenue 0
Kaimuki (girls) is not a deep team. They played with five players in a recent loss at Kaiser. They don’t press. But that’s a real score.