Hoopbook: Mililani changes speeds en route to OIA title run

Mililani is in the semifinals of the Heide & Cook/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships. The .Trojans battle ‘Iolani at Moanalua gym. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

The men of Troy prefer to run.

Run and gun. 80-point games would be a regular theme for Mililani if a shot clock were mandatory. Instead, the Trojans do what many elite teams do with a lead and the ball in the final minutes of a high school game in Hawaii.

They made people chase. The MIlilani Trojans are OIA Division I boys basketball champions after a 43-26 win over Kailua not because they can play the four-corners game better than most, but because they can get gritty with the best of them. They can shape-shift from run-and-gunners into a slowdown, tough-nosed man defensive unit in an instant.

The work ethic in the offseason made a big difference, but coach Garrett Gabriel’s old-school sensibilities give his sharpshooters and slashers a sense of legacy. The only other team to win an OIA crown was in 2008, a twitchy bunch of Trojans who ran the floor and pressed like mad men.

When the state tournament was rescheduled a week earlier, the OIA had no choice but to condense its playoffs. Edge to the deeper teams like Mililani.

It would have been logical for the Trojans to push the tempo and force Kailua to spend its precious last ounces of fuel early in Wednesday’s championship game. Instead, they put their trust in Jackson Mayo. The 6-foot senior was assigned to cover Kailua’s giant-killing junior guard, Jonny Philbrick. Less than a week after pouring in 29 points to help Kailua give Kahuku its first loss, the shifty guard scored seven points against Mililani as Mayo blanketed him.

Noa Donnelly, the 6-foot-4 sophomore, finished with eight points and 10 rebounds for Kailua.

Being able to adapt to different tempos is a hallmark of great teams. Before Hilo won state championships in 1991 and 2000, the Vikings spent more time developing their halfcourt offense. Coupled with halfcourt and fullcourt trapping, the Viks became lethal.

“Now we step up to a higher level. When you play ILH teams, every possession is critical,” Gabriel said.

Kailua was unbeaten in OIA play until the loss on Wednesday. A weary group of Surfriders lacked the energy and urgency that brought them to the foot of the throne. To get through the state tourney, they will begin with a play-in game on Monday, and three games in three nights — again — starting on Thursday.

For now, some rest time is required.

“We’re not conditioned to play three games in a row,” Kailua coach Walter Marciel said, noting the abbreviated preseason calendar. “We’ll regroup the next couple of days and find out who we will play on Monday.”

>> Dreams and broken hearts

Punahou wasn’t the only team to see a very hot streak turn into a disintegration of league and state title dreams. Leilehua, the OIA West runner-up, won nine games in a row during league play after a losing to Mililani, 69-35, in the regular-season opener.

Unlike the OIA girls postseason, where three of the four D-I semifinalists were from the West, the boys bracket finished out with three East teams in the semis. Needing a win in the quarterfinal round to qualify for the state tournament, Leilehua lost at home to East 3 Roosevelt, 49-46. After routing Kalaheo (65-45), the Mules then needed a homecourt win over W3 Kapolei.

Kapolei stepped up for a 50-40 win on Wednesday to claim the final state berth. It was the same team that Leilehua blew out 57-18 on Jan. 12. What changed? In the first meeting, Kunique Yandall-Parker had just four points. On Wednesday, he tallied 21 points. Neveah Domingo, a non-factor in the first matchup, scored 11 points.

Malcolm Nichols stepped up with 26 points on Wednesday, but the Mules didn’t get the same balanced scoring this time. It leaves some fans wondering what would’ve happened if Landyn Jumawan was still wearing green and gold.

The 6-2 senior plays for the Atascocita Wildcats, ranked ninth in Texas by MaxPreps.com. He was a Star-Advertiser All-State Fab 15 selection by coaches and media in 2020 before moving to Houston.

>> Breakout for super soph Zion Millare

After seeing limited action during the regular season, Zion Millare broke out on Wednesday with a career-high 20 points in Maryknoll’s 65-51 win over Mid-Pacific. Until Wednesday, Millare’s high for the season was seven, also against MPI, on Feb. 5.

Justin Yap added 19 points for the Spartans, who take on Kamehameha tonight for the ILH’s third and final state-tournament berth. This is how gruesome the ILH gauntlet, 2022 edition, has been. Two-time defending state champion Maryknoll needs a win tonight or its postseason hopes are dashed.

Speaking of what ifs, the Spartans have been in the Top 5 all season, long after the departure of 7-foot scorer and shot blocker Sage Tolentino. The Cincinnati signee previously had plans, or least a thought, of returning to Maryknoll for senior year. Then the pandemic hit and he settled in at Hamilton High School in Ohio.

Last week, Tolentino averaged 18 points and 11 rebounds for Hamilton in three games.

>> Big Green run

The Kapaa Warriors (8-0) clinched the KIF title and have one game left in the regular season. Coach Kamahalo Kauhane’s team has balanced scoring, led by Keaka Kauhane (16 ppg), Kala Rall (14 ppg) and Mikey Questin (12 ppg).

Coach Kauhane’s players also travel in the summer and have developed the kind of bond — and commitment — that separates them from the rest of the league. The return of ‘Aka Kauhane, the youngest of the Kauhane brothers, from Kamehameha during the winter break has been a difference maker.

Two years ago, KIF champion Kauai was seeded third by the HHSAA committee behind Hawaii Prep and Hanalani. Top seed HPA lost in the semifinals to Roosevelt and ILH champion Hanalani lost in the opening round to McKinley, setting the stage for unseeded Kohala’s title run.

Kohala’s first win at the big dance that season was over Kauai, 68-64. Kauai later edged Hanalani (48-46) and Seabury Hall (52-49) for fifth place.

>> Last chance for big dance

In ILH Division II, the semifinal round commences on Thursday night in a battle for the second and final state berth allotted to the league. Though the ILH (eight teams) and OIA (nine) have the most teams playing D-II boys basketball, the field is limited to eight entries.

Hawaii Baptist has already secured the ILH D-II title and an automatic state berth. That leaves Le Jardin, University, Hanalani and ILH D-III champion Hawaiian Mission to battle tonight and Saturday.


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