The Maryknoll Spartans are roughly 3,000 miles from home, but they’re feeling fairly comfortable in their current confines.
Coach Kelly Grant’s young team will face St. Francis — no, not the Hawaii school that closed its doors earlier this year — for the title at The Damien Classic in California tonight.
Maryknoll has continued its torrid win streak to begin the season, ousting Eisenhower (44-41), Hesperia (47-39) and San Marcos (54-40) to reach the final of the Silver Division. The Spartans, led by seniors Niko Robben and Liko Soares, and 7-foot sophomore Sage Tolentino, have stunned many who weren’t certain about their upcoming season as defending state champions.
With ILH rivals Kamehameha, Punahou and ‘Iolani poised to dethrone Maryknoll, there is also Damien, the D-II state champ that moved up to take a shot at the state’s pre-eminent powerhouse programs.
“We are at the mall walking around,” Grant said during lunch hour. “We’ll eat soon, then back to the hotel for our daily walk-through.”
A No. 1 ranking for a relatively young team won’t have much effect.
“It is what it is. I’ve been around the block enough times to know how to keep the boys focused,” he said.
Damien is playing the same tournament as Maryknoll, but in the toughest bracket: Platinum. The Monarchs committed to that division expecting a full roster, but elite point guard Jydon Hall moved to Georgia. Damien (8-6) has lost three games in Platinum action to Damien (Calif.) (93-61), Rancho Christian (82-59) and Windward (73-70). They will meet Birmingham today.
Monarchs coach Alvin Stephenson doesn’t regret a tough preseason schedule that included No. 6 Trinity International.
“That was a close game for three quarters,” he noted. “The No. 1 team in Portland (Jefferson), another close game for three quarters. We had a bad game against Arroyo (Grande). We played without Hayden (Bayudan) due to injury.”
Damien is 7-0 against island teams and 1-6 against mainland/international teams, including a clutch win over Tsinghua (China) at the ‘Iolani Classic with Bayudan back from injury. Coming into The Damien Classic in California, Stephenson was confident. The Platinum division includes teams like Sierra Canyon.
“We are the first Hawaii team to play in the Platinum division. Our goal is to put some respect on Hawaii basketball. We will compete against the big dogs regardless of the score. These boys are battling for respect and to show what the island and Damien basketball are about,” Stephenson said.
Meanwhile, Kamehameha is playing for the consolation title in the Gold division. The Warriors, under second-year head coach Larry Park, lost to Colony 64-53 in the opening round, then defeated Canyon (64-56) and King Drew (52-44). They meet Roosevelt today.
Kamehameha II is also in the tourney. The Division II Warriors lost to Glendora (64-51), Diamond Ranch (52-36) and Schurr (60-44). They play Vallivue (Idaho) today.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Top 10
|Updated: Aug. 16|
Also receiving votes: Waiakea 12, ‘Iolani 10, Kapolei 5, Mililani 4, Hilo 2, Lahainaluna 2.