Hoopbook: No. 1 Maryknoll and so many infinity stones

Five teams received at least one first-place vote in the Top 10, but Maryknoll is No. 1 for a second week in a row. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

Basketball bonanza buffet is the only way I can say it.

So much goodness. So little time. The fun part is posting video shot from behind backboards. After all the years, decades really, of filming prep basketball and even our men’s league in the 1990s, I never did it more than once or twice.

Now I’m hooked. Instead of sitting up high on the bleachers with the long view from the Handycam, I’m having a blast posting highlights within minutes on our social media. Why? I think that’s what we all really want. I don’t have assist or rebound totals for all these preseason games, but no regrets here.

Oh, except one. I can’t be at four tournaments at the same time. Last week just about stonewalled me missing so many great games. Four boys tourneys, only one pupule. Between the girls preseason tournaments — I actually sat and stayed the full day for a couple of them — and boys preseason tourneys, I got to see teams at their best, at their most raw, and a whole bunch of them evolved over the course of two, three, four weeks.

Here’s my take the hoop squads I got to see so far, starting at the top — as defined by our Star-Advertiser Top 10 panels.

1. Maryknoll Spartans (9-2)
> def. Nanakuli, 74-34, Monday
> def. Punahou, 68-57, Tuesday
> next: vs. Kalaheo, Wednesday

Some quality wins by the Spartans already: Beckman (Calif.), Campbell and — after the new Top 10 was released — Punahou.

When last week brought chaos and craziness across the board to the Top 10, voters were completely lost in the dark. Never seen anything like it in all these years of Top 10 polling, but coaches and media were making educated guesses by voting deadline.

Maryknoll took that close loss from then-No. 2 Kailua last Thursday, then lost by 41 to powerhouse Eleanor Roosevelt (Calif.). At the Pete Smith Classic, the Spartans overpowered a dangerous group of guards from Nanakuli, then handled a hot Punahou squad. Even though Saint Louis had seven out of 15 first-place votes and Maryknoll had only two in Monday’s voting, the Spartans are proving they belong on the throne.

Strengths: Backcourt depth
This may be the deepest team Coach Kelly Grant has put on the court going all the way back to his Kaimuki years. Deep as in potential all-league contributors at guard. The 68-57 win over Punahou on Tuesday is indicative that Grant is more than willing to roll out his four-guard attack and let the chips fall where they may.

The blueprint isn’t entirely different, but those 32-29 games will be somewhat rare. The introduction of the 35-second shot clock plays a big role, of course, but it is also MATH. Having Zion Milare, Hunter Marumoto and former Kamehameha-Hawaii standout Nixis Yamauchi plus returnee Keanu Lee gives Maryknoll a glut of playmakers, so. the increase in pace and possessions works entirely in their favor against any team in the state.

Rome Lilio (6-5) added some muscle in the offseason and is coming off a state-tournament run for Pac-Five’s football team. Former Baldwin big Ghesiah Faleafine-Auwae was a cornerstone trench man on that same team. The two complement each other when they are on the floor, but platooning them is their first option. Good to have choices.

X factor: Man on a Mission
The newcomers have blended in quickly. This is still a work in progress, but the growth of sophomore wing Mission Uperesa-Thomas would give Grant yet another infinity stone to work with. He is getting closer with each week. Uperesa-Thomas, even as young as he is, would be a starter for most teams in the OIA.

Celebrity comp: Thanos
As a two-time state champion prior to Saint Louis’ rise to the 2022 and ’23 titles, Maryknoll has a certain disciplined, relentless edge. It’s always there defensively. No, they’re not perfect, but from what I’ve seen, the Spartans have given consistent effort on defense. Maybe the best.

Homecourt edge: 7/10
Big games bring out the Spartan faithful, and they can be a bit noisy. With one basket close to a wall and the other roughly 25 feet away from the other wall, it’s not the easiest place for long-range shooters to get adjusted to.


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