Last dance this week for private-school hoops exhibition battles

Saint Louis Athletic Director Chad Konishi explains protocols to members of the Buff Nation club team before their game last week. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

The final week of “Season 1” is a busy one on the hardwood for private-school basketball programs.

Tonight, Hanalani’s girls team visits Kamehameha, and the Warrior boys host Punahou after that in an exhibition doubleheader at Kekuhaupio Gymnasium. Both games will be streamed online, no spectators allowed.

Saint Louis closes out “Season 1” with three games: Tar Heels on Wednesday, Le Jardin on Thursday and Punahou on Friday. The Punahou game will be the first against an official school team for Saint Louis, which is undefeated against club teams at 10-0.

Damien, which has also been busy for the past month with games and outdoor scrimmages, may play two more games this week.

The private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu has kept some fall and winter sports alive, but basketball was a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the weekend, Hawaii Baptist and Kamehameha girls basketball teams met in what is believed to be the first school-versus-school varsity basketball game on Oahu since February of 2020.

On Maui, Maui Prep Academy hosted a four-team club tournament recently. Host Maui Prep’s club team won the tournament, defeating club teams from Baldwin, Lahainaluna and Maui.

On the Big Island, Brooke Samura scored 24 points and Kyana Brucelas tallied 23 in Hawaii Prep’s 65-15 win over Christian Liberty.

There are other games this week just waiting at the scorer’s table to check in, but are not officially set yet. Coaches and administrators have squeezed in what they can before Season 1 ends. There’s also the possibility that games continue beyond this week, one athletic director said.

While some school and club teams have opted to use protocols that don’t involve testing, others insist on it. At Saint Louis, Coach Dan Hale and the staff have been meticulous about masks, sanitizing, temperature checks and social distancing. No spectators. Teams head out immediately after game’s end.

“As far as testing, even the CDC doesn’t recommend testing anymore unless the kids are symptomatic,” Hale said. “Even the new state guidelines (from the Department of Health), it says that it’s not recommended unless the kids are symptomatic. I think the idea is we’re providing a safer environment than they have going into a supermarket because we’re controlling ours.”

Another key element is the social circle of each student-athlete.

“Our guys have been very, very good. We preach to them constantly ever since skills and drills, this thing can only go as far as long as you guys are smart. Clearly, they’ve followed that and taken that to heart. That’s the only way it kind of works,” Hale said.

Within recent days, Nevada and California opened up football for high schools, though not all districts have agreed to do so.

“It’s a moving target. Back in November, we’re thinking one thing, when they were cancelling all the football seasons, and then they reevaluate it and you have to be malleable to that. The more we learn, the more we have to learn to live with it,” said Hale, who is also an assistant athletic director.

High school athletes have been working out at parks, gyms and even running on streets as restrictions were implemented, then tempered after the first lockdown in 2020. Coaches like Hale, Damien’s Keith Spencer and many more — including Le Jardin’s Tim Harrison — were willing to create a middle ground rather than leave their players out in the wild, so to speak.

“We’re just trying to do what’s best for kids, providing a safe environment for them. That’s what’s good for them and that’s what’s being borne out. From our school president to all our ADs to our trainers to our medical advice team, they were all on top of this, recognizing this fact. We can provide a safe environment for kids,” Hale said. “From our school president to all our ADs to our trainers to our medical advice team, they were all on top of this, recognizing this fact. We can provide a safe environment for kids.”

Other private schools were more stringent about testing. That’s the level HBA and Kamehameha achieved over the weekend.

Hawaii Baptist and Kamehameha required testing by all participants — no spectators — who entered their respective facilities. HBA allowed socially-distanced post-game interviews. Kamehameha would not permit phone interviews during its first foray into COVID-era, exhibition basketball competition.

So far, so good, except for those who play basketball at campuses that forbid exhibition basketball against schools and clubs. Those programs have been limited to intrasquad games. At one school, the girls and boys teams were tentatively scheduled to play games this week, but were prohibited by the school’s highest authority.

For many seniors, there will be no sampling, no taste of competition. Some private schools were willing to take a risk. Others were not.

The basketball programs willing to play this winter served another indirect purpose. Their protocols and results will serve as valuable data for upcoming sports in the spring and fall, as well as offseason training and school-based summer leagues — if there are any.


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