For much of this abbreviated season — most preseason games were wiped out by protocols — there were two.
Aiva Arquette and Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola have been unstoppable scoring machines, equally adept from the perimeter and the paint.
Maryknoll altered the force on Tuesday night, limiting Arquette to 11 points in a 50-45 win over No. 1 Saint Louis that may have changed the trajectory of the ILH boys basketball season.
“We had a good game plan, to make sure Arquette wasn’t scoring under the basket,” Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant said of the 6-foot-4 senior. “I think he had nine at halftime and only two after that. We had a bigger lineup. Fabian (Camacho) is only 6 feet, but he is super strong. He put on 20 pounds of muscle.”
The gauntlet is often unforgiving, but also spurs evolution in the ILH for just about every sport. When Maryknoll lost at Saint Louis on Jan. 22, Arquette scored 30 points from everywhere. Grant and his staff went back to the drawing board. So did other ILH teams. In the five games since, opponents have limited Arquette to 11 points or less three times. Granted, one of those was a runaway win over Damien and he played limited minutes, but Saint Louis is now in position to do its process.
Hayden Bayudan is scoring and distributing. The senior point guard had 16 points on Tuesday night. AJ Bianco is averaging 11 points per game since returning for a marathon football season.
Like Bayudan, Maryknoll’s Logan Dias is a mid-range master. The Spartans’ deliberate pace and balanced offense make it hard for any shooter to get close to 20 points, but Dias (12 ppg) has that kind of ceiling on a given night.
Meanwhile, Westmoreland-Vendiola was on a mission Tuesday with 32 points and 17 rebounds in No. 5 Kahuku’s 59-45 win at Moanalua.
“There are some good offensive players this year in the state of Hawaii, but Amari does it from all over the court,” Kahuku coach Brandyn Akana said. “He can score it from long range and inside the paint. His strength is definitely in the open court in transition, but he is also physical enough to rebound and get putbacks. You don’t usually see these types of players come around. He does it so easily. With his size, athleticism, speed and skill set, he is a weapon anywhere on the court.”
Against a spirited Moanalua squad, the 6-3 wing was at his best in the third quarter, as usual, pounding the boards. He had eight points and six caroms in the third stanza alone as Kahuku pulled away. Fourteen of his 17 rebounds were on the offensive glass.
With the box-out a lost art form, no team has been able to sustain a constant shield around the rim against Kahuku. Westmoreland-Vendiola contributes in every imaginable way on both ends, a truly versatile weapon who can play the 1 through 5. But when he decides to go inside, there has been little to no resistance.
That could change on Thursday, when No. 8 Kailua visits Kahuku. The Surfriders have 6-4 sophomore Noa Donnelly, an old-school post who gives no ground in the key. Kailua (10-0 OIA East) has the balance and athleticism to counter Kahuku, but will there be enough commitment defensively to keep Westmoreland-Vendiola off the offensive glass?
At 26 points per game, his consistency is unmatched because of his will. No other wing with the exception of Arquette is willing to take the punishment and crash the boards as well as Westmoreland-Vendiola does. His endurance and twitchy bounce are lethal to opposing teams. He has scored at least 20 points in every game. He is also a strong candidate for All-Defensive honors.
There are a handful of scorers statewide who can and do hit the 30-point level offensively. But few actually provide consistent production every night.
Kapaa, 5-0 in the KIF, has three talented offensive playmakers who have a combined 48 points each night. Sophomore Keaka Kauhane played JV ball for Kamehameha in the late fall, then transferred back home to Kapaa and is averaging nearly 18 points per game. Kala Rall (13 ppg) and Mikey Questin (12 ppg) likely would be averaging more points if Kauhane had remained at Kamehameha, but would the Warriors — who also have stellar athlete Solomone Malafu in the post — be in first place without the combo guard?
The trade-off is always there. Some unstoppable forces accept it for the sake of team success. Some are fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, where their offensive game needs to be at maximum output.
Put Mililani’s Trey Lieb (15 ppg) on a team with less talent and lighter competition, and the lightning-quick guard would have much different numbers. But the Trojans are undefeated in the OIA West with a balanced attack, one of the few teams to push No. 1 Saint Louis to the edge during preseason.
Lieb scored 19 points in that 63-61 loss to the top-ranked Crusaders.
“I’ve known Trey for four years and every year, he has gotten better,” Mililani coach Garrett Gabriel said. “He maybe reminds me of Ja’Shon Carter of Kapolei a couple of years ago. He was very valuable to his team in terms of his ability to distribute and score the basketball when he needed to. I know a lot of players respect him from playing club ball, too. I really do believe he is top 10-15 in the state.”
Tyler Grover, Radford’s electric guard, has been robust at more than 19 points per game. Ehu Schenk-Lee of Kalaheo (18 ppg) and freshman JJ Mandaquit (18 ppg) of ‘Iolani have been formidable. Mandaquit has done it against some of the best competition in the state, including an 18-point performance against national powerhouse Sierra Canyon (Calif.).
Lahainaluna’s Noah Flores Alexander and Kanaau Castro (16 ppg each) and Baldwin big man Hudson Yarbrough (16 ppg) have been crucial for their teams. Guard Zelston Militante of Nanakuli (15 ppg) has wowed a number of opposing coaches. So has Kailua’s mid-range master, Jonny Philbrick (15 ppg).
Kahiau Bruhn (16 ppg) and EJ Kapihe (15 ppg) of Kamehameha have played well, but there is probably a higher ceiling for both. In reality, with a slower pace and higher defensive intensity in the ILH from top to bottom, the 6-4 Bruhn and 6-5 Kapihe would probably average 20 points each in any other league.
Maybe 24 to 25 ppg.
When word started leaking among some media that a scorer from Maui Prep might break the state single-game scoring record, there was plenty of salt to be taken, at least a grain or two.
Drew Triplett scored 43 points that night (Jan. 28) against an overmatched Haleakala Waldorf squad. The record belonged to Saint Louis legend Jim Nicholson, who scored 60 points against Mid-Pacific in 1966, until 2019. More than half his points came on 20 dunks in the second half, Bill Kwon scribed in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, as the future NFL lineman took out his wrath on the Owls.
Kila Kahalekai of Nanakuli scored 61 against Waialua in ’19, averaging nearly 22 points per game that season.
At 31 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals per game, Triplett and his senior-heavy squad have only played four games in MIL Division II play and did not face a Top-10 team when it traveled to oahu in December, so he remains largely off the radar when it comes to unstoppable forces in the islands. His 51-point effort against Saint Louis I-AA is impressive, as is anything above 40 points at nearly any level.
He also scored 31 against a solid Kaiser squad the day after the 51-point gem. When Na Pueo met Maui for a home-and-home series just before New Year’s, he scored 27 and 28 points in MPA’s two wins. But he “only” scored 15 against Campbell during the Oahu trip, possibly the byproduct of playing three games in three days during preseason.
To his credit, he had a strong stat line across the board, sharing the ball with his teammates. MPA is no slouch and might be the best team in the MIL regardless of division. With a gapped-out schedule, MPA is willing to play just about any team. It won’t happen with Baldwin, the MIL’s first-place team in the D-I standings. The Bears’ schedule is too busy, too tight, coach Cody Tesoro noted.
Triplett, though, is the real deal.
“I think Drew is definitely one of the best offensive players in the state,” Na Pueo coach Zach Bailey said. “What makes him great is that he makes plays on both ends of the court. He’s great in the open court and in transition being able to finish with contact either right or left. He has a great mid-range game being able to stop on a dime and knock down the 15-footer. He worked on his 3-point shot this offseason with his older brother and he’s shooting it with confidence off the dribble and spot up.”
There are at least a dozen players worth noting because of their defense, glue-guy skill sets and exceptional basketball IQ who may not even score in double digits each night.
But when it comes to pure offensive production, consistency matters. There are plenty of volume scorers who don’t crack 20 points on a regular basis because of free-throw issues or a system with a slow pace. Kaimuki guard Rashawn Fritz-Betiru scored 36 points against Radford in a comeback win, but his true value is his IQ, making the right decision at the right time. In OIA play against D-I and D-II competition, the senior is averaging 12 points per game. The D-II Bulldogs are 6-4 after a senior-night win over Kaiser on Tuesday.
Noah Takahata leads ILH D-II scorers with a 15-point average, but HBA is unbeaten and the league champion with Gabriel McTee averaging a modest 12 ppg.