From the outside, the basketball gym at Parker School is nondescript.
A small structure as residents and passers-by blitz by on the highway. Thelma Parker Gym and the school campus are close to the town center at Waimea on the Big Island, a place where basketball culture comes and goes. With a small enrollment, Parker’s boys basketball team has a good season once in awhile.
On Wednesday night, the Division II Bulls made it a memorable night. They matched their win total of last year with a 55-48 overtime win over visiting Konawaena. The Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s Kevin Jakahi reported that 6-foot-3 center Connor Brown came up big with 33 points for the Bulls, who are now 1-1 in BIIF play.
The beauty of D-II basketball, at least in the BIIF, is the way communities with similar, smaller enrollment bring a certain fervor and intensity to small barn-like gyms across the gym. The fatigue of driving an hour, or more than two hours, and making a 50-, 100, or 200-mile round trip on a week night or weekend is neutralized by frenzied, adrenaline-fueled fans.
It’s also the perfect setting for a hoopster like Brown, who coach Greg Dunigan calls a classic “late bloomer.” Down by four points with 22 seconds left, the home team fouled the visitors twice. Both times, the Wildcats missed the front end of 1-and-1s. Both times, Parker scored, including Brown’s 14-footer with 2 seconds left to tie the game and force OT.
The catch is this: though Brown is 6-3 at a tiny school, he is not a post player. His game-tying shot was a pull-up jumper.
“He’s our point guard,” Dunigan said. “I have three kids at 6-3 and 6-4. One of them is on the JV.”
Parker is actually up to 16 players between the varsity and JV. At 1-1, they’re a darkhorse to fetch one of the BIIF’s two D-II state berths for the first time ever.
Former West Hawaii Today sportswriter Bobby Command recalls a string of four seasons, 1988-92, that may have been the best run by the Bulls.
“I believe Parker may have had one team that rode on the back of either Kalei Pea, Todd Brown or John Kaohimaunu and won a few games against more talented teams,” he said.
Just a few years ago, Parker’s hoops program was dormant. Again. The current seniors, including Brown, were freshmen three years ago when Dunigan showed up on campus — as a substitute teacher. He was retired after coaching for 29 years in Washington, Mo., and followed his daughter and granddaughter to the Big Island.
Dunigan was actually an official during that first year. Parker’s JV team had just six players, including Brown. Brown’s father, Ed, was the coach.
“That winter is when I came along,” said Dunigan, who was a basketball official the previous season.
The Bulls went 12-10 overall as they matured into sophomores.
“Then, of course, last year, we struggled, but we played better at the end. This year, we played eight games in preseason,” said Dunigan, who recalls suiting up seven players at Keaau’s preseason tournament.
Brown wasn’t an instant star. He picked up basketball fairly late. Even now, at 6-3, Dunigan says Brown would be a middleweight in the ring.
“He played with the Honokaa group that traveled to Oahu last summer, but he didn’t go to the mainland with them. Even though we sent film to (college) coaches, people are iffy about him. He needs to grow into his frame,” Dunigan said. “We think he’ll benefit from going to a JC.”
The coach describes his floor general as “a workaholic.”
“He’s got almost a 4.0 (grade-point average). He has a high ACT score,” Dunigan said. “He just wants to play.”
The future, he adds, is bright.
“I love my junior group. We’re short (in numbers) on the sophomore group. In about three or four years, we’ll get a bit deeper,” said Dunigan, who might just be having more fun than any basketball coach in the islands. “I owe Parker a lot.”
Parker has three D-II opponents among its next four. There is a looming stretch of six games in a 10-day span.
“We can compete, but we have some kids who have played just two, three years. I’m so proud of how far they’ve come,” Dunigan said.
With the BIIF fairly tough in D-II with Hawaii Prep — which beat Moanalua at the ‘Iolani Classic — and a solid Pahoa team, an improved Kohala squad, a scrappy Honokaa team, Parker has tough company. Dunigan suggests an expanded format in the future.
“I came from a place where everybody makes the district tournament. I wish they’d do it here. You struggle, but you keep improving for that chance at the end. Look at the interest the NCAA has with the conference tournaments and the upsets,” he said.
Cost, as always, is a key factor. Big Island bus rental costs may be the highest in the state. Parker? The Bulls have a very capable school van.
Bonus info from Command:
>> Jan 3, 1978, Parker’s first-ever league game: Parker 56, Kona 50. Next night, Kaohimaunu scores 52 and HPA beats Parker 102-64. Parker goes 3-12 in their first season.
Mustangs cage Cougars
In the OIA East, competition up and down the board is turning out to be quite a bonanza for fans. Sure, Farrington and Kaiser are good teams playing in Division II, but until the playoffs, everyone plays one another round-robin style. Kalaheo took care of business at home on Pete Smith Court by outlasting Kaiser 65-58 on Wednesday night.
Ryan Pardini came up clutch with 21 points, including three 3-pointers. Brother Luke Pardini is healthy now and scored 15. Robert Thompson and Ryan Owens scored nine points each. The Mustangs played just seven players and are still not 100-percent healthy, but far healthier than they were for much of preseason.
“A big difference maker last night was the entire team didn’t turn the ball over,” Kalaheo coach Rob Pardini said. “Luke made plays throughout game on both sides of the ball but put a string of eight straight points in fourth quarter to extend the lead and finish.”
Owens, at 6-4 with long arms, was an octopus protecting the rim.
“Ryan was key in many ways: defending the post against Cyrus Singelman, rim protection and rebounding for us. His ability to bring the ball up vs full court man pressure was big as Kanoa Smith was hounded the entire game,” Coach Pardini added.
Kalaheo played a robust 18 games in preseason, going 9-9 against almost exclusively Top 10 competition.
“We definitely gained valuable “in game” experiences throughout our 18 preseason games,” Pardini said. “We needed that time to clean up the mistakes and build on the positives.”
Kailua’s 58-52 win at No. 10 Kahuku is a shining moment for the Surfriders, who played a difficult preseason schedule. All that matters now is that they are 1-0 in OIA play (9-8 overall). The game was tied at 40 going into the fourth quarter.
“We kept them off the boards in the fourth,” Surfriders coach Walter Marciel said. “Everett (Torres-Kahapea) attacked the bucket and scored. We got two big defensive steals, one from Everett and one from Kaniala Williams for layups. Kaniala gave us a huge spark coming off the bench, and Isaiah (Hopson) had two big baskets in the post.”
Torres-Kahapea finished with 21 points to help counter a 17-point, 15-rebound effort by Kahuku’s Ethan Erickson, who signed to play football at Brigham Young.
No. 7 Kailua is now 9-8 overall. Kailua and Kalaheo are the only teams with .500 overall win-loss records to begin the week in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10.
In other OIA boys games on Wednesday, Farrington outlasted McKinley 46-33, Moanalua eased past Kaimuki 79-50, Kalani downed Castle 59-39, Waipahu stunned Radford 48-46, Roosevelt overpowered Anuenue 66-9, Mililani defeated Nanakuli 68-39, Waianae routed Waialua 75-47, Leilehua edged Aiea 68-63 and Kapolei stifled Campbell 41-34.