Friday night isn’t normally a good time for a prep notebook.
But Friday, November 30, 2018 was not a typical day. Former President George Bush died. That would be newsworthy enough. The hardwood tales of Hawaii prep hoops added much more. From Oahu to the Big Island, Friday night was mightily memorable.
>> Buffanblu bounce back
Punahou knocked off the hot Mid-Pacific Owls 64-43 in the championship game of the 20th Annual James Alegre Invitational. Jakob (with a ‘k’) Kimura continued to wow. From offensive rebounding, passing and leaping for an alley-ooo dunk to begin the second half — that was on the classic backdoor cut that has been a staple of UH and ‘Iolani basketball in years past — Kimora continues to establish himself as one of the most versatile weapons in the state.
The Buffanblu are 5-1 now, just days removed from the upset loss at Damien. They’re playing like a team on a mission, though, which shows that a preseason loss can provide more than enough fuel in the right hands.
Kai Nafarette came off the bench with a whole of his teammates and provided a quick bucket, then a wing 3 to help spark Punahou’s first-quarter run. In classic Darren Matsuda style, all the Buffanblu get action, and it benefits their most active players, like Nafarette, Drake Watanabe, Ryder Hsiung. Even starters like Tamatoa Falatea get ample rest time in a system that rewards 100-percent defensive effort. Anything less is not good.
“You go to the bench,” Falatea said.
Punahou played without Maninoa Tufono (elbow) and Duke Clemens (UCLA football visit).
>> Crazy conclusion in Kona
Arguably the best tournament in a week of very good events is the Konawaena Invitational, where four of the state’s Top 10 teams are meeting in round-robin fashion.
Kalani has been superb so far with wins over host and No. 2 Konawaena (66-54) and No. 7 Hilo (60-51). Today, the Lady Falcons have an early afternoon showdown with No. 4 Lahainaluna.
Why is a preseason game in pristine Kealakekua relevant? The Lady Lunas struggled when they began nonconference play two weeks ago. By the end of the Matsumoto Law Group McKinley Black and Gold Classic, Susitina Namoa had begun to show her real colors. She and Konawaena’s Caiyle Kaupu have been game-changers this week in Kona, and today’s matchup is a big test for the MIL’s dynastic Lady Lunas.
For Kalani, it’s been a state of evolution from day one. With the departure of key leaders, to the addition of Kamalu Kamakawiwo‘ole, the work has been in progress. The talented senior is a matchup headache for most opponents, but she also noted two weeks ago that it will take time for the Falcons to blend together and build chemistry.
That time is now, it seems. Lahainaluna. Kalani. Best game of the day? Definitely could be.
>> Wildcat generational hoopology
And, speaking of the Lunas, the greatest game of Friday night was probably Lahainaluna-Konawaena, which went to FOUR OVERTIMES before the Lady Lunas prevailed 61-52. Along the way, Kaupu fouled out in the third quarter and Namoa sparked the team in red to its second win in as many nights.
Oh, and Konawaena coach Bobbie Awa wasn’t present. It was Jessica (Hanato) Guillermo who filled in for the Wildcats since Awa was a bit busy. The longtime, legendary coach — nine state championships in the past 15 seasons — was at the hospital with assistant coach and daughter Dawnyelle, who gave birth. That makes Awa and husband Donald, coach of the boys team at Konawaena, grandparents for the first time. Congratulations, Awa ohana.
And Guillermo has been helping out, but she, too, is a new mom and has been in and out this season. If anyone wonders whether a small school in Kona Mauka could sustain all the success at the highest level of girls basketball in the islands, the legacy of the Kona Stingrays program, which feeds Konawaena, seems likely to continue.
>> Scary injury for Ng
St. Francis, like Punahou, was one of the elite teams that lost to Damien in the past week. The Saints were primed to make a title run at the Surfrider Holiday Hoops Classic, but standout guard Kameron Ng suffered a leg injury against Kailua.
Ng was taken to the hospital. St. Francis went on to edge host Kailua 87-78 in Friday’s semifinal round and will take on ‘Iolani tonight in a battle of ILH D-I programs. The senior guard had already begun the season explosively.
vs. Kaiser — 36 points
vs. Damien — 14
vs. Leilehua — 42
vs. Campbell — 21
He had 13 points in one quarter against Kailua before the injury. Ng developed into an exceptional scoring machine over the past three seasons by learning how to draw contact in the paint. That just accentuated his ability to hit from deep.
St. Francis (4-1) got balanced scoring with Ng’s brother, Kordel, leading the attack. The junior scored 23 points to lead the Saints against the Surfriders. Five Saints finished in double figures against a Kailua team that will challenge for the OIA D-I title.
One of the reasons, possibly the most crucial one, that longtime coach Ron Durant was opposed to moving higher from D-II to D-I, was the program’s lack of size. They sometimes had big football players on the roster who played part time, but with the graduation of players like Boris Vucevic, and with future UH baseball player Bubba Akana no longer on the roster, the Saints are now one of the smaller lineups in ILH D-I or D-II.
Talent-wise, there’s no question they can contend for the league title. Against Kailua, the Saints shot 20-for-28 from the foul line, a solid 71.4 percent.
Akana will worry a bit about staying healthy. Beating Top 10, D-I teams in preseason was never a problem in the past. But he noted that taking on two, even three ILH D-I big-boy lineups every week could take a toll physically.
The one big plus is this. In the era of spacing and 3-ball, the Saints have enough shooting to negate physical disadvantages. Big man Nalu Kanalulu had one of his biggest games against Kailua. But shooters Titus Liu and Makua Marumoto also stepped up. Seasoned vet Jett Tanuvasa can go into gunner mode or become lead distributor.
The ideal, of course, is for Kameron Ng to return at full health. His injury is a big question mark. If he returns, the Saints have an unmatched weapon, the reason they moved up to D-I, essentially. Without him, they still have the effect and influence that a basketball lifer has on a small-school program. If Kameron doesn’t return, at least for awhile, brother Kordel is ready to step up to another level.
The skywalking junior led St. Francis with 23 points on Friday.
Update, Saturday, 12:45 p.m. Coach Durant said Ng has no structural damage to his ankle. “It’s a really bad sprain. We don’t know how long he’ll be out yet. There’s no fracture,” he said.
Ng will see a specialist on Monday.