ILH girls basketball games took a bit of break recently with the upsurge of positive COVID-19 tests in the islands.
It was enough to wipe out most of the first round-robin in the ILH schedule. So, instead of the four Division I teams — ‘Iolani, Kamehameha, Mid-Pacific and Punahou — playing a partial go-round, the first go-round has been scrapped.
So, instead of Kamehameha and ‘Iolani playing on Tuesday night, the game has been cancelled. Kamehameha’s previous ILH games with Maryknoll (Jan. 8) had already been scrapped. The league’s teams still have three round-robins to play, which adds up to nine games.
That’s enough, apparently, to earn the eventual first-place finisher an automatic state-tournament berth.
Over in the OIA, nothing was halted in girls and boys basketball. The public-school league opened its season much earlier — Dec. 23 for girls hoops — and rode out the peak of the current spike, keeping the entrance door closed to the public while games carried on. The KIF, MIL and BIIF had their share of postponed and cancelled games, but kept trodding on.
A few ILH girls teams stayed busy with exhibition games under strict protocols — players wearing masks, no spectators, vaccinations (or exemptions) required.
Shane Lino’s girls basketball team at Kapolei is back on track after a 55-40 win over Pearl City. The ‘Canes had to forfeit a game with Aiea due to lack of players — caused in large part by positive cases of COVID-19 — and took its first loss of the season after three wins.
“There’s no makeup. For us, it was all timing, just bad timing. The mandate guidelines, we got hit with it. It was just unfortunate,” Lino said.
Both the OIA and ILH have adjusted requirements along the way. Flexibility is key as teams statewide deal with positive cases.
“If you’re boosted, you don’t have to wait five days. You can play as long as you show no symptoms,” Lino said.
The visiting Hurricanes rolled to a large lead of 21 by the beginning of the third quarter, but Pearl City surged with a comeback. The home team cut the lead to 40-32 by the end of the third.
Senior point guard Kiana Ramos provided key plays in the final stanza with a couple of fastbreak buckets, a hustle play for a steal, and a big 3-point shot to give Kapolei some breathing room. She never seemed to look tired, except during time outs.
“She came up clutch. She came up big,” LIno said. “Her endurance, we practice hard. We work hard. Nobody wants to run, but our style of play, you’ve got to run and they know they’ve got to push, which they did tonight.”
ILH boys finally hit hardwood
In addition to the girls’ return, the crowded house of title contenders in ILH boys basketball is on display this week. Punahou visits Maryknoll and Kamehameha entertains Damien in Tuesday night matchups. The Mid-Pacific/‘Iolani game has been postponed.
The top five teams in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10 hail from the ILH: No. 1 Saint Louis, No. 2 ‘Iolani, No. 3 Punahou, No. 4 Kamehameha and No. 5 Maryknoll.
On Wednesday, No. 6 Mililani hosts Campbell and No. 7 Kahuku visits Kalani.
Then, on Thursday, an epic matchup in the ILH: Saint Louis at Kamehameha. With so many preseason games cancelled due to the pandemic and/or positive cases, there may be an added level of pressure for each regular-season game in the ILH.
There was already plenty built in. ILH games are notorious for having a slower pace, fewer possessions and more physicality than any other league in Hawaii. With an automatic state-tournament berth allotted to the regular-season winner, there is more on the line and it always shows.
Punahou has always had a penchant to run under coach Darren Matsuda, but he knows the nature of ILH games turns every game into a grind. Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant always has skilled players, but he treats every game, preseason or regular season, like a state final. The methodology works. Defense. Execution. Consistency.
Over the years, an immense amount of talent has walked the Maryknoll campus. An astounding number of players have also departed, as well, to mainland destinations. From Justice Sueing Jr. and Brian Washington to Sage Tolentino, they have flown out, and coach Grant keeps replenishing the program.
Logan Dias and Parker Grant are senior leaders now.
“Logan is probably our best all-around scorer. He can slash to the basket and shoot the 3-pointer. When we’re stagnant, we’ll probably look at him as our first option to get a shot off because he can create,” Grant said.
Two-sport standout Parker Grant, the coach’s younger son, had a busy, successful summer and fall on the mound.
“He’s gotten himself back into basketball shape. He loves basketball, always loved it. If he had a choice to watch a baseball game or a basketball game on TV, he’ll choose basketball,” Grant said. “But he’s always known his future was with baseball.”
Between baseball training and basketball workouts, it has been a way of life.
“He’s played with me since he was 5 years old, so it doesn’t take him long to get into basketball mode,” coach Grant said.
Maryknoll needs Grant, the player, to get more buckets this season. He has added 30 pounds to his frame since sophomore year.
“We’re trying to change his mindset. He’s always been pass first, and I told him, you’re going to have to go to the basket,” coach Grant said.
The Spartans have balance. Justin Yap, a 6-1 junior, adds zone-busting capability.
“He’s probably our purest shooter. He was hitting shots for us as a freshman. I put him in the same shoes as Nikko Robins as a junior. When he puts his mind to it, he’s a really good defender,” Grant noted.
A four-guard offense gives seniors Micah Sakamoto and Jaren Kaneshiro a way to contribute significantly.
“They are starters, rotating in at the shooting position. I kind of compare this team to my 2009 team at Kaimuki when I had Gabriel Steitzel, Ryan Kakitani, Jason Nutter and David Taulung,” Grant said.
Saint Louis coach Dan Hale invested a lot of time and energy into his team through the summer and fall. The core of Aiva Arquette, Hayden Bayudan and AJ Bianco is, perhaps, the most balanced trio in the islands. Newcomer Pupualii Sepulona was oftentimes dominant on the block during summer league.
‘Iolani was simply captivating during the ‘Iolani Prep Classic. Freshman JJ Mandaquit was more than ready for the outstanding defenders of Sierra Canyon. Sophomore Aaron Claytor showed that he is an effective playmaker for teammates — not just a long-range gunner. One of the Raiders’ x-factors this winter is senior Jack Jones, a high-flying wing who plays bigger than his 6-foot-1.5-inch frame and runs the floor as well as any dunker in the state. Jones has shown flashes of his scoring and passing skills through preseason.
At Mid-Pacific, coach Rob Shklov is counting on his experienced, gritty returnees. Apollo Espania is already a senior, a three-year letterman.
“He’s very strong, can finish in a variety of ways and has improved his shot,” Shklov said of Espania, who also draws the toughest defensive assignments.
Luke Higashi is also a three-year letterman who brings quickness and defense. When coach Shklov describes Higashi, it sounds like a description of Shklov as a player back in the day.
“He is a tenacious on-ball defender. Coach Sunil has worked with him a ton on his strength and flexibility. He is incredibly tough as he takes a lot of contact in the paint despite his height,” Shklov said.
Jacob Brown, a 6-foot junior, is another quick Owl who possesses a smooth release in the paint and on the perimeter.
“I’d put him up there with any shooter I’ve ever coached or played with,” said Shklov, a Punahou graduate. “He has worked incredibly hard to expand his off-the-dribble game and defense. He’s now comfortable leading the break. He’s a high achiever on and off the court, works until they shut the lights off and kick us out of the gym.”
A definite x-factor for MPI is senior Ethan Escobido, a transfer from Hanalani. The 6-1 senior was an All-ILH Division II selection as a sophomore.
“He has a very mature offensive game and gets after it on the boards and in transition. A lot of the offense flows through him and he plays the action positions in our defensive schemes,” Shklov said.