‘Iolani Classic: A look back at upsets, near-upsets and dunk champs

Oak Hill's Rajon Rondo went up for a layup against Mt. Vernon's Dexter Gray in the 2003 'Iolani Classic title game. Star-Bulletin file photo.

Between Billy “Bonecrusher” Hull’s tourney preview and as historical take on the ‘Iolani Prep Classic in Tuesday’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, there may still be far too few words penned about the annual basketball tournament.

In print, we took a look at the finest shooters, scorers, defenders and teams over the course of the Classic’s 35 years. Some of the notable performances by local programs over mainland powerhouses:

>> 1983: The eight-team field of the inaugural Classic had just three mainland teams. Radford and Kailua reached the semifinal round, losing to West Philadelphia and St. Bernard (Calif.), respectively. West Philly, with the coolest basketball nickname ever — Speedboys — won the title.

>> 1998: Kalaheo reached the quarterfinals, lost to powerhouse Fairfax (Calif.) and then won out to finish fifth. Future Hawaii forward Julian Sensley was named to the all-tourney team. Ryan Hogue, now athletic director at Sacred Hearts, scored 22 against Fairfax and had 20 more against Thunderbird (Ariz.) in the fifth-place game. Thunderbird was tall with a 7-foot center and 6-6 guard.

“The guard got smashed on his head by Julian in a 1-on-1 break,” Hogue recalled.

No island team finished higher than fifth again until ’06, when ‘Iolani placed third.

>> Also in ’98, Punahou, with Dan Hale at center, upset St. Joseph Notre Dame (Calif.), which was ranked No. 16 nationally. The Pilots were coached by Stu Vetter.

>> 2001: An uber-talented Kalaheo knocks off a talented, nationally-ranked Dr. Phillips (Fla.) squad. Ikaika Alama-Francis, then a 6-6 wing, is named to the all-tourney team. Skyler Wilson, nephew of the late, great coach Pete Smith, and DC Daniels made this a trio that ranks among the best in island history.

>> 2002: Possibly the most heartbreaking loss for the host Raiders. ‘Iolani leads superpower Montrose Christian by one point in the final minute. All-State player of the year Derrick Low, the phenom who had averaged 35 points per game as a middle schooler, knocked down a 1-and-1 foul shot to give the home team a two-point lead. He misses the second shot, which allows Montrose point guard Taishi Ito to fake his man into the air for an open 3 from the right wing.

His shot is all net at the buzzer. Montrose wins that quarterfinal thriller. ‘Iolani fans, players and coaches simply could not believe it.

“It would’ve been so cool to win that game with Montrose being ranked so high. For me, I was at the free-throw line, made the first and missed the second, so we should’ve been up by three. You always look back and see what you could’ve done better,” Low said.

Low and sharpshooting guard Ryan Hirata, best friends as kids, are still besties now. After all, Hirata transferred from Maryknoll after his sophomore season and sat out his junior year per ILH rule, just to play with his pal. But there will always be a bit of anguish about what could’ve been.

“Every time someone brings that game up, Ryan always blames me, and I always blame him because that was his man. That was (Ito’s) first shot all game,” Low said.

Low went on to make the all-tournament team for a second year in a row. ‘Iolani, coached by Mark Mugiishi, went on to defend its state championship two months later, with Hirata matriculating to Chaminade and Low moving on to Washington State before playing professionally for a decade. Mugiishi’s Raiders went on to capture five more state titles, making it a string of seven in a row for One Team.

>> 2016: Powered by Christian Mejia and sophomore gunner Everett Torres-Kahapea, Kailua knocks out Arizona powerhouse Corona Del Sol.

Also in ’16, Kahuku captivates the audience with two wins over mainland teams, including an upset victory over powerhouse Mt. Vernon (N.Y.). Kahuku placed third with the return of Jessiya Villa and Samuta Avea, and the arrival of New Zealand junior national team member Daniel Fotu.

Brian Mick, a former Kalaheo player, recalled playing against Kamehameha, in ’91, in a consolation game that was played in Blaisdell Arena for TV purposes.

“They ran a a great sideline play with three seconds left that resulted in Elvis Olivera hitting a 3 falling out of bounds for the win,” Mick said. “I”m still salty.”

Dunk you very much
Among slam dunk aficionados, there’s a simple question: is Josh Smith (Oak Hill, ’03) really the best slam-dunk contest champ of Classic history? He was one of the first to lob the ball off the back wall for an off-the-bounce dunk during the contest. Justin Anderson of Montrose Christian took the dunk title in ’11, highlighting his effort with a leap over five keiki, huddling together 5 feet in front of the rim, to wow the crowd.

“My third dunk was jumping over the kids, my annual dunk,” Anderson said. “It’s my last time here. I figured I’d do something I always do.”

Anderson, who used Air Jordan logo flair while in flight, was piled on by 10 kids after the dunk.

The best performance, though, may not have been by Smith or Anderson, or even Ben McLemore (Oak Hill), who continually succeeded at defying gravity when he won the contest in ’10..

Derrick Mostella was captivating in ’12. Just two hours after scoring 21 points (including five treys) in an upset win over Oak Hill, the 6-2 guard was battling fatigue as he needed to complete a clean dunk in the first round of the contest.

With co-athletic director and MC Eddie Maruyama imploring the packed house to cheer Mostella on, he began a whirlwind series of NBA-level throwdowns that have not been completely duplicated or surpassed since. Two were windmills — one through the legs, another leaping over a teammate seated in a chair 7 feet from the rim. The final one was a high-flying dunk over four players. Three of them were 7 feet, 6-foot-10, 6-9.

“I just wanted to try something for the crowd. I dunked over two people before, not three,” said Mostella, who was also selected the tourney’s most outstanding player.

Fans have their favorite memories, too. Superfan and ‘Iolani intermediate boys basketball coach Rudy Tulonghari’s favorite memory is watching his son, all-tourney selection Trevin Tulonghari, “defend as a freshman against Kemba Walker” in ’07.

The biggest fan-favorite moment may have been during the ’16 tourney, when a 5-10 Findlay Prep reserve guard named Dillon Glendenning entered a blowout game in the fourth quarter. Coincidentally, it was against the same Kahuku team that later finished third.

Glendenning had little to no fanfare in two previous games with minimal playing time. He splashed a 3 from 25 feet out, sending the gym into pandemonium. Moments later, he banked in another 3 and the decibel level reached new heights.

“The crowd was feeling me,” Glendenning said after the game. “I felt the hype so I gave them what they wanted.”

That kind of hoopla doesn’t happen every night or even every year, but it’s always possible when the lights are on at the ‘Iolani Classic.

Screenshots courtesy of Jerry “Mad Librarian” Campany


  1. JetWavy December 18, 2018 5:00 am

    Did we seriously forget what Kahuku did in 2016? It was only two seasons ago… They didn’t just beat two teams, they beat THREE: Mt. Vernon (NY), De La Salle (CA), and Southwind (TN) for a THIRD place finish. Their only loss was to eventual winner, Findlay Prep (NV). And a Kahuku player led the tourney in ppg. To me, that was the best team of any local school in the history of the tournament. That Kahuku team was for real.

  2. Wake up December 18, 2018 2:18 pm

    That Kahuku team was also RECRUITED. FLOWN NOT GROWN

  3. Loca1boiAnonymous December 18, 2018 2:59 pm

    @Wake Up

    What’s your point? You’re saying the out of state teams in the tournament are not recruited? I’d argue most of them play with 19/20 year olds. Kahuku had more Hawaii-born players on that team than half the OIA puts out every year. Only Fotu was the only one not born in Hawaii. Yeah, Kahuku recruited but so do a ton of other local teams every season. That year, they just did it way better than anyone else and had the best performance of any local team to date.

  4. Dunkstah December 18, 2018 3:01 pm

    Yes. The Red Raiders that year was crazy good…Had some borrowed talent That’s what happens when you CAN recruit..Dont let the Red Raiders start doing it in Football too..Cause that would be game over..

  5. Seriously December 19, 2018 1:52 am

    And, Kahuku didn’t play a door mat, like Iolani does every year to get themselves to the second round. Recruiting….please, have you seen Kapolei, Mililani, Radford, and lately Damien??? How many local players born in Hawaii are on those teams.

    This article totally downplayed the Kahuku 3rd place finish and 3 mainland wins with their only loss to Findley Prep, ranked #2 at the time.

  6. Nathan thomas August 27, 2021 7:03 am

    wanted to see tournament results from 1986 classic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiprepworld@staradvertiser.com.