… why don’t we see it all the time, right? I’ve been in a vacuum of sorts during the Hawaii high school version of March Madness, a.k.a. the Big Dance. While No. 1 seed ‘Iolani established its domain at one site (McKinley Student Council Gym), I’ve witnessed the prowess of Kamehameha and Academy of the Pacific at Farrington’s Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse.
Prowess. Peak performance. Kamehameha did not enjoy coming in second last year. After winning the state crown in 2009, the Warriors had the highest of expectations, fell short, and have been driven to reclaim the throne. That’s why, after 10 days without a game, I and roughly 2,000 other fans were witness to something special on Wednesday. After an onslaught of 12 3-pointers by Kamehameha, it’s safe to say we were all in awe. They shot better than a lot of pros you might watch on TV, or if you’re fortunate enough, live in person.
The ball movement. The unselfishness. The intelligence to never hold the ball in one spot for more than a couple of ticks. Kamehameha basketball is Jesse Nakanishi: a thinking, fluid, intense flow of fire that never settles. Sure, they can take a lot of decent shots from long or short range, but when the Warriors break down a defense, the intent is not some crazy, off-balance prayer of a shot. NEVER. The ball ultimately ends up in the hands of a teammate who has an open look.
It doesn’t hurt that just about every Warrior on the floor, starter or sub, is usually in his shooting range and ready to shoot before the ball even arrives. Fundamentals. They are fun. They have perhaps the most dominant player in the state: Micah Christenson, who is posting 20-10 double-doubles in little more than one half per game. Peak performance.
Kamehameha followed that shooting clinic against Baldwin with another torrent of treys in a lopsided win over Kamehameha-Hawaii. I felt for the Big Island champs especially because their strength — tough defense resulting in easy layups — is also one of Kamehameha-Kapalama’s strengths. The Kapalama hoopsters practice against tough on-ball pressure and halfcourt traps all the time. If that weren’t enough, as Nakanishi said, they got lots of preparation thanks to an arch rival like ‘Iolani.
The Big Island Warriors never got into a comfort zone once the Kapalama kids sliced up that pressure and manufactured at 20-point lead by halftime. To their credit, KS-Hawaii never gave up and eventually the turnovers came, but it was much too late. It was not going to be enough, either. Even Kapalama’s reserves played with furious anger and accuracy.
In fact, one of the deadliest shooters in the tournament has been Frank Ho, who is shooting lights out from long range. Peak performance. The return of Shane Matayoshi (early season injury) has provided even more depth, quickness, fluidity and 3-point shooting. Unfair to the rest of the field, almost.
Then, there’s AOP. Eleven-point deficit against Roosevelt? Turn on the heat, seize control by the third quarter and win. The Dolphins never stopped executing, and even before they would attack, Roosevelt’s post were racking up fouls. Athletic and strong down low, the Rough Rider bigs struggled against 6-6 post Moritz Krume. It was a turning point when AOP got into the bonus in the first half.
You can’t blame Roosevelt either. They played BIG, and they played well as they went up 19-8. They just haven’t seen a lot of teams like AOP, which has Krume on the post, slashers at the other positions, including 6-5 guard Micah Dunhour. He had 22 points on the first night, and 29/17 last night. Peak performance. (Kaipo Pale was huge for Roosevelt, too. Same with Shairone Thompson of Kahuku.)
The Dolphins showed their usual grit, using a halfcourt press that didn’t exist early in the season. That constant menace of defensive threat became formidable again last night against mighty Moanalua.
For what it’s worth, most fans tabbed Moanalua as one of the favorites to win the OIA. When they struggled early on — 3-6 in OIA Red East play at one point — and almost missed the playoffs, they didn’t panic. They knew the cure: take care of the ball and finish games right. For the final week of regular-season games and through the playoffs, Na Menehune were transformed by this cure.
Fast-forward to the quarterfinal round of the state tourney, and Moanalua was in position to close out AOP and advance to the semis. Instead, turnovers against AOP’s pressure hurt. A missed foul shot here and there. But more than their great plays and mistakes, Moanalua simply had no way to deal with Dunhour, who had 15 of his 29 points in the final quarter and overtime. AOP’s 51-50 win goes down as one of the best games I’ve seen at the prep level in 21 years.
It goes beyond the gut-check plays by Dexter Williams and Dunhour, Keven Amaral, Brandon Guerrero, Krume and Drew Viena. It was just weeks ago when Williams learned about the death of his cousin and best friend. He never spoke about it to the media. He hid it well. But he wanted more than anything to win a state title in his cousin’s memory.
On the other side, Dunhour also had heartbreak to deal with. Like Williams, he never talked about it to media until after the win over Moanalua. Basketball kept his mind off the death of his friend, his “brother,” Joel Botelho. They were going to be brothers-in-law soon enough, but since Botelho’s death, Dunhour had kept his cool. That changed after the Moanalua game, and he surprised me and probably himself, too, with the depth of his regret. No, he did nothing wrong, but when he lost his brother, there was no chance for a goodbye. It happened in the middle of the night, and just like that, gone.
It’s always easy to enjoy a game that will never be forgotten. I’ve got the video to look back on it sometime in the future. But it will never be easy to see one heroic effort culminate with defeat, and someone had to be on the losing end last night. For whatever it’s worth, I will never see either Dexter Williams or Micah Dunhour as anything but champions. What they’ve done as friends, sons, brothers and obedient student-athletes goes beyond titles or wins or losses.
I’ll always have major respect for these two young men. They’ve grown up far more than I could’ve ever known.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser