There’s a certain art to scheduling preseason games, certainly in basketball. Over the years, coaches have become craftsmen about it, doing all they can to avoid matching up with regular-season opponents.
And yet, there they were on Tuesday night: the visiting Kamehameha Warriors against the host team, Punahou. I didn’t count, but the crowd at Hemmeter Fieldhouse looked like a healthy 500-600, and I’m almost always too conservative on those guesstimates.
It felt, from the vibe in warmups to the opening tip through the final seconds of an amazing game that went into overtime, like an ILH regular-season game with huge stakes. It turned out to be a rollicking, fun 53-48 overtime game. Punahou won, easily could’ve gone the other way. I’d venture to say that if they played 10 times, it would be a 5-5 split.
Emotionally, there was complete, all-in effort from both the Buffanblu and the Warriors. That’s what made it so watchable. Even as Punahou opened a 21-11 lead, it was just a matter of time before a Kamehameha squad that had played so well of late — really, that No. 6 ranking in the Top 10 is ludicrous — would make a run or two.
We got much more than that. Bodies were flying everywhere. Guys sacrificing themselves to get, hopefully, that charging call. Closing out on shooters constantly. And just when it looked like two teams with serious run-and-gun tendencies would be content to slow things to a crawl in the second half, ba-boom! Just no stopping Punahou’s transition game with Cole Arceneaux pushing upcourt at warp speed, and the wily, veteran play of guard Chris Kobayashi is immeasurable. He hit five big threes and finished with 16 points, but what he really brings is knowledge, knowing when to attack, where to attack from, and drawing the kind of contact that forces referees to call fouls.
Kamehameha has gone this far with a deep, deep rotation, utilizing speed and girth and shooting skill from top to bottom. It would be tempting for Coach Greg Tacon to pare his rotation down and let maybe two or three shooters get their rhythm with more minutes. Say, 25 to 28 minutes instead of 15 to 18. But there’s this: a tired player is not the same defensive player he was early in a game, and Kamehameha’s defense has been good partly because they’ve got fresh legs on the court. It’s a luxury item, having quality depth, and I doubt that a defensive-minded coach like Tacon would turn away from it.
Some coaches have a tight rotation out of necessity (injuries, lack of balanced players, inexperience). Some prefer to develop young talent on the bench. Being able to play as many as 10 or more on a roster also creates a healthy intra-squad competition. That team probably never loses its edge.
Same can be said for Coach Darren Matsuda’s Buffanblu. Their second unit would probably beat two-thirds of the Division I teams in the state. They’re not necessarily the most athletic or biggest five, but they press like heck and they move the ball quickly, efficiently. Some fans who prefer a slower pace might view the run-and-gun, constant on-ball pressure approach as gimmicky, perhaps. But there’s something to be said for the LMUs and Grinnellls of the world, where some or all players know for a fact that they get 3 minutes on the court before the next shift clocks in. That makes that 3-minute stretch the most important 3 minutes of their day — until the next time the unit is sent in later in the quarter or half.
When time is short, you spend it wisely and fully. That’s what makes Kamehameha-Punahou especially unique and fun to watch this season. I’ve said it already, but here goes again: sign me up for the ILH Basketball Network, whether it’s on cable, Netflix, public access or Hulu. I’ll be a subscriber.