Hoopbook: Maui Prep, playmaker Drew Triplett are ‘unreal’

The future is bright for Maui Prep boys basketball, but there is nothing quite like relishing the present for coach Zach Bailey and his squad. Na Pueo are 16-0 entering the Division II title game of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. Photo courtesy of Zach Bailey.

The Kaimuki Bulldogs got a very close look at Maui Prep on Friday night.

The word: “Unreal.”

Kaimuki won its semifinal battle with Hawaii Baptist, 72-59, but only after watching some of the Maui Prep-Kohala tilt. MPA ousted the top-seeded Cowboys, 65-46, despite 26 points and five steals by O’Shen Cazimero. Drew Triplett scored 20 points to lead another balanced attack by Na Pueo.

“Triplett is unreal. He’s very, very good. Good supporting cast and they all got range. They’ve got nice size,” Kaimuki coach Greydon Espinda said. “That’s a really nice team to watch.”

Maui Prep and Kaimuki will tip off at 5 p.m. in Blaisdell Center in the Division II final of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships.

MPA got 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the field by Triplett, a 6-foot-1 senior. He also had five assists and two steals. Dylan Falk (14 points), Jimmy Falk (11/8) and Levi Basurto (10/6). All five starters had at least two assists, and as a team, Na Pueo had only nine turnovers while shooting 64 percent from the field (28-for-44).

Kaimuki outlasted a relentless HBA squad with a lot of grit. The Bulldogs didn’t go with their usual blueprint against the smaller, quicker Eagles.

“We knew HBA was going to be scrappy and they’re so quick. We couldn’t set up the press. They were just running past us. We just had to play straight up basketball,” Espinda said.

Cleveland had 18 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, five steals, two blocks and nine turnovers. He shot 7-for-10 from the field, including 2-for-2 from the arc, and 2-for-2 at the foul line. KC Renton had 16 points, and sophomores Jeremiah White and Daysen Lupica added 12 each. White had six assists and six turnovers.

Kaimuki jumped to a double-digit lead early and extended it to 16 before HBA cut it to seven in the second half.

“They just got a motor. They don’t stop. We did pretty good breaking the press for most of the night. We had a hiccup here or there,” said Espinda, a former multi-sport athlete at Kaimuki.

Early in the season, the Bulldogs rose and sank with the play of seniors Rashawn Fritz-Betiru and Malu Cleveland. Now, the diversification of contributions makes them far less predictable as a team.

“Everyone contributed across the board. I think when we talk about Sean (Arakawa), it doesn’t show in the stat line, but it’s how many rebounds he grabs. He’s always around the ball. He did a good job on both sides,” Espinda said.

MPA has been a matchup nightmare for every team it has played. Triplett scored 51 in a preseason game at Saint Louis I-AA, but his ability to make his teammates better has been golden.

“The matchup will be interesting. We’re going to have to figure out how to contain Triplett, the shooter. He has really nice moves to the basket and a really nice short jumper. He’s not much of a 3-point shooter, but to score the points he’s scoring, that’s an incredible job he’s doing, and his teammates getting him the ball,” Espinda said.

MPA coach Zach Bailey noted before the semifinal round that Triplett and Cazimero were almost mirror images of each other.

“O’Shen did all he could to try and bring back his team,” Espinda noted.

Kaimuki has generated the most audible and impassioned crowds since the postseason began. They have become a sixth man.

“The crowd has been great! (Thursday) night’s game was almost sold out. They came to (Friday’s) game with lots of support. They just cheer,” Espinda said. “It was great to see the community come to support these kids.”


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