Saint Louis, basketball powerhouse of 2021.
The Crusaders and the rest of Oahu’s private schools saw basketball season officially cancelled by the Interscholastic League of Honolulu last month. They’ve filled some of the gap by scheduling games in sparkling-new Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium.
With two wins over Damien’s club team and one over Imua, a squad of Kamehameha players, the Crusaders are now 3-0. A 60-57 exhibition win over Damien on Wednesday night was streamed on Facebook Live. Former Damien standout Jydon Hall, who transferred to Georgia last year and returned to Hawaii for senior year, led Saint Louis with 25 points on 9-for-11 shooting from the field.
AJ Bianco added 13 points and Aiva Arquette had 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Saint Louis defeated Damien’s club team 53-42 last month to begin its slate of exhibition games. Then came a 55-45 win over Team X, a which is listed as “Punahou Club” in the official boxscore, but historically is a mix of players from multiple private schools. A 54-25 victory by Saint Louis over a club team of Kailua players followed. Two weeks ago, the Crusaders outlasted Imua, a group of Kamehameha players, 62-56.
Tino Atonio, a 6-foot-5 wing, paced Damien with 24 points before fouling out in the final minute.
“It’s different because we don’t have a crowd. We don’t have that pent-up excitement. As a team, we need to be louder on the bench,” the senior said of Damien’s young roster. “It’s pretty hard playing in a mask. It’s wet, so you get a new mask every time you go back in. Always got to hand sanitize for safety protocols.”
Saint Louis led early and saw its margin cut to 59-57. Hall’s free throw with 45 seconds left increased the lead to three points, but with Atonio out of the game with five fouls, the visiting Monarchs had one less weapon.
The Crusaders had two fouls to give and used them both before Damien was whistled for an illegal screen on an inbounds play with 22 seconds to go. Malu Ing missed two foul shots with 14.5 seconds remaining, giving the Monarchs an opportunity to tie.
Luke Patton, a freshman guard, missed a quick layup try, but Arquette’s save on the loose ball going out of bounds went right back to Patton. He fired a pass to Ken Mitchell on the left wing, but his shot hit the back iron as time expired. Arquette was relieved to see the shot miss.
“It was just second nature, get the ball and save it because my teammate touched it. I didn’t really think about it. My second thought was I could’ve thrown it to halfcourt. Luckily, it worked out,” Arquette said. “Damien came to play. It was a battle all the way.”
The Crusaders are the only team in the state playing in its home gym. Damien has scrimmaged teams on outside courts in a casual format. Saint Louis Coach Dan Hale has the support of the school administration.
“Our strict protocols are being adhered to by everyone. The support at Saint Louis is tremendous. Our No. 1 goal is to provide a safe venue for the athletes to play. When we have these games, it’s all hands on deck for our athletic department,” said Hale, who is also an assistant athletic director. “The other athletic directors, trainers and coaches are all there to help facilitate these games.”
Damien has played several games and scrimmages now.
“I felt like it was a normal game. The mask kind of has an effect on us sometimes. It feels like we get more tired. But with the refs it felt like a regular game,” senior co-captain RJ Spencer said. “There’s a lot of teams not playing so we’re fortunate to be playing.”
Atonio faced Saint Louis’ 6-5 Bianco in the paint often. Arquette, at 6-3, is splashing 3s and dunking on fastbreaks. Bianco’s talent on the football field as a quarterback is elite. Arquette is one of the state’s top shortstops.
Atonio can run the point on occasion, hit the 3, drive and finish, defend at the rim and on the perimeter, is hoping he can get a college scholarship offer despite the current situation.
“I just want to play. That’s the main thing. I just want to go back to normal and play basketball. It was kind of hard when we heard our season got cancelled. We’ll do all the safety precautions and everything as long as we get to play. Having the opportunity is the best thing,” said Atonio, who has a 3.25 grade-point average. “Hopefully I get some type of offer. if not I’ll try to walk on at UH or somewhere.”
Damien has outdoor scrimmages scheduled this weekend. Though the scoring format in the scrimmages is more like that of a pickup game, the Monarchs run their offenses and defenses like any other competition.
“Oh yeah, we’re running baseline, sideline out-of-bounds plays. Offensive sets. Two man-to-man offenses and a zone offense,” Monarchs Coach Keith Spencer said. “We only practice on Saturdays.”
Damien co-captain RJ Spencer just wants more basketball.
“We hope we can continue to play more games. We don’t know how many have left until another (COVID-19) wave comes. We don’t care who we play,” the senior said.
The precautions, he added, are legitimate.
“It’s always emphasized to wear masks at our practices at games,” he said. “A lot of those people who have questions are unaware of what’s happening. At Saint Louis, they’re working hard to make sure everyone is safe and clean.”
Meanwhile, the Crusaders have more games scheduled this week. They feel stoked to have something tangible.
“I’m so grateful to Saint Louis because Coach Dan, the ADs and all the faculty, they put on these games. Our team is practicing every day and we’re going at it as if there was a season and states,” Arquette said. “To the people that like us, thank you for supporting and for being on our side through this whole coronavirus pandemic.”
Saint Louis will host Team X on Friday night. Drake Watanabe, a standout with Roosevelt last year, has returned to Punahou. A key returnee, Ryder Hsiung, did not play in the first meeting between the teams.
Note: Clarifies the composition of Team ax’s roster.