ILH boys hoops gauntlet in full swing this weekend

Kelly Grant's Maryknoll boys basketball team went 16-1 in the preseason heading into the start of league play tonight. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

The first weekend of the ILH boys basketball season is here and already, chaos is inevitable. The mirage of rankings comes into play, whether it is embraced by parents or players, fans and alumni. It is there. More so for Maryknoll than any other program.

The Spartans and their roster of mostly underclassmen wowed the state with a 16-0 run through nearly all of preseason, which ended with a loss in the Silver Division final of The Damien Classic in California on Monday.

Here’s a look at the results for the top three teams in the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10, whom all played in the tourney.

No. 1 Maryknoll (16-1)
The Damien Classic, Silver Division
W 44-41 Eisenhower
W 47-39 Hesperia
W 54-40 San Marcos
L 52-47 St. Francis

No. 2 Kamehameha (13-5)
The Damien Classic, Gold Division
L 64-53 Colony
W 64-56 Canyon
W 52-44 King Drew
L 61-54 Eastvale Roosevelt

No. 3 Damien (9-6)
The Damien Classic, Platinum Division
L 93-61 Damien (CA)
L 82-59 Rancho Christian
L 73-70 Windward
W 100-73 Birmingham

It was the kind of test all three programs wanted, even if the results didn’t match their goals. Now the regular season hits like a tidal wave.

‘Iolani (4-8, 0-0) at Maryknoll (16-1, 0-0), Friday
Since losing to Kamehameha, 51-48, on Dec. 20, the Raiders have had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans. After losing key players, including All-State Fab 15 selection Kawika Lee, to graduation, the first six weeks of competition has been a bumpy ride. First-year Raiders coach Ryan Hirata has seen his squad play short-handed with bigs Shayden Molina and Carter Kamana out (football). The scrappy Raiders still competed in every game.

In their eight nonconference losses, these are the margins: 3, 8, 1, 3, 1, 1, 9, 3. There is plenty of shooting and skill. The x-factors, though, aren’t obvious. There’s no 6-foot-9 post like Hugh Hogland. There’s no big rebounder who can trail and splash threes (Lee). So every game turns into a grind. They’re equipped for that.

For the Spartans, this is the ultimate trap game. Coming home after a largely successful trip, it would be easy get too comfortable in the confines of their home gym. Or it might be more pressure in front of the home crowd. The win-loss record doesn’t tell us about the single-digit games with Kalaheo (45-37), Moanalua (52-47) and Kamehameha (57-53).

Of course, Maryknoll does have the x-factors. The variables that few teams have. A 7-foot 3-point shooter (Sage Tolentino). A 6-4 point guard-turned-wing shooter (Niko Robben). A point guard (Parker Grant) who grew up in the system, a classic coach’s son. The Spartans have a classic post player in 6-2 senior Liko Soares. They have depth a guard with shooters who can run the point (Noah Furtado, Kahaweo McGee).

It is a proper Maryknoll team. Once in a while, it is almost surreal that the Spartans actually have a gym to play in. The DNA remains rooted from those Freeway Five years.

It gets no easier for Maryknoll on Saturday. Maryknoll hosts No. 6 Mid-Pacific. ‘Iolani’s next game is on the road at MPI on Tuesday.

No. 1 Maryknoll at No. 2 Kamehameha, Tuesday
The Warriors get more to get their land legs back with no ILH games until they host the Spartans. That gives them a chance to scout the Maryknoll-MPI and Maryknoll-‘Iolani games.

Kamehameha was a team that dipped into the Top 10 last year, a roster full of promising underclassmen, including Christmas Togiai. He is, perhaps, the toughest matchup in the state. Sitting out his senior year of football allowed Togiai to refine his perimeter shot, which has better rotation and consistency now. Going to the basket, able to spin either direction, he is basically a grown man who can finish or hit from mid-range.

Though they won their first nine games, the Warriors faced just two Top 10 teams (Moanalua, Punahou). Then came a 57-53 loss to Maryknoll in the final of the Kaimuki Invitational, and three days later, the Warriors nearly upset nationally-ranked Long Island Lutheran before losing 63-57.

Then came a loss to Kaiser while Togiai and post man Bailey Lee were on a glee club concert tour. The Damien Classic’s Gold Division, the second-highest tier at the event, sharpened the Warriors. They get their chance to show it on Tuesday.

No. 3 Damien (9-6, 0-0) at No. 6 Mid-Pacific (12-5, 0-0), Friday
This is an intriguing matchup of bigs and shooters. Damien’s brutal preseason slate has purged all impurities. Damien’s inside forces — 6-7 Bryce Forbes, 6-5 Tino Atonio and 6-4 Jake Holtz — will test MPI’s 6-6 Kala Nakaya and 6-3 Elijah Kahue-Parker.

Atonio is the wild card. He has emerged this season with a better 3-point shot and much more usage overall as a ball handler and passer. Forbes has been brilliant on the offensive glass. He can hit the occasional 3, too, but the lanes will be clogged when he and his teammates look for penetration opportunities. Practically no team was able to keep Forbes off the glass consistently.

Holtz has found his comfort zone. Whether it’s the open 3, or the skill set to create separation for a variety of mid-range shots, Holtz has been comfortable and patient. He still has an explosive drive to the rack, but now we see that he can get a good shot from virtually anywhere on the floor.

Nakaya has been a rock-steady force on defense. He and Kahue-Parker are a tough duo to stop in the paint. Against many teams, the edge inside belongs to these two.

The guard battle is another entertaining aspect. Damien point guard Hayden Bayudan returned from injury to play a strong ‘Iolani Classic. The Monarchs also get strong play from jet-quick Jarvis Natividad on both ends.

MPI, meanwhile, has seen Kamana Lapina evolve into a premier playmaker and defender. Lapina’s motor never slows, and he has an uncanny chemistry with gunners Lucca Kitashima and James Smotherman. The Owls have more firepower from the arc, including reserve Jayden Ramos.

First-year head coach Robert Shklov saw his team win three of four games in California last week. The Owls already have six wins over Top 10 Hawaii teams. They have played every game, all 18 so far, away from Mills Gymnasium. They also lost to Damien by 23 points at the ‘Iolani Classic.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Mid-Pacific will have rocket-level, adrenaline fuel levels for tonight’s showdown. The cooler team, however, will prevail.

No. 4 Punahou (10-6, 0-0) at Saint Louis (1-5, 0-0), Friday
The Buffanblu are a on a roll after sweeping through their Punahou Invitational tourney to the title. Including the Surfrider Holiday Classic, James Alegre Classic and Bishop Gorman tourney, Punahou has won 10 of its last 13 games.

They do it with relentless defensive pressure led by ultra-quick Peyton Macapulay and a lot of perimeter shooting. Yoshi Kobayashi and Noah Kameehonua are taking the ball to the rim with regularity, which helps offset the lack of consistent low-post scoring. Ryder Hsiung is a big x-factor with his 6-4 frame and length, 3-point shooting and post-up ability. The other x-factor is 6-9 Jordan Deshawn Hepting, who has grown two inches since last season. If Hepting avoids foul trouble, he is one of the toughest rim protectors in the state.

Punahou got a huge boost from 6-5 Alexandru Iosivas in a close win over Science Hill (Tenn.) on Monday.

Saint Louis is in year one under former Punahou coach Dan Hale. The schematics, the preparation, all classic Hale, who guided Punahou to a state championship in 2008. The execution? That will take time. The Crusaders have some able two-way players in Aiva Arquette, Shoncin Reveulto, Malu Ing and Kahaku Marquez.


  1. ahinalu January 4, 2020 1:36 am

    SA do your home work Mid Pac was in Arizona last week.

  2. JetWavy January 4, 2020 8:00 am

    So for the teams playing in the Damien Classic, Maryknoll played in the weakest division, Kamehameha in the next best, and Damien in the highest?

  3. Tojo January 4, 2020 11:57 pm

    Damien did not win a single game in California. Those last two scores are way off. I was. There watching my son play and also Bronny haha

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