Sage Tolentino always loved basketball.
Thankfully, his mom and dad didn’t mind getting him new shoes and clothes practically every six months.
“He grew about four or five inches every year in elementary school,” Becky Tolentino said.
The one consolation, mom added, is that son Sage isn’t a big fan of long pants. Finding trousers with a 40-inch inseam, dad Grant Tolentino said, would be tough to find.
Sage Tolentino is a humble kid, just 15, and stands at 6 feet, 11.5 inches right now. He is heading into sophomore year at Maryknoll, a basketball program that won the Division I state championship last year.
Most of the key starters and rotation players graduated in June. There’s returning point guard Niko Robben. There’s post Liko Soares. And there’s Tolentino, who has grown more than 2 inches since the start of freshman year.
Humble as he is, Tolentino isn’t about to back down when it comes to the Spartans on the hardwood. With Damien and Kamehameha returning key players, Maryknoll may be slightly forgotten by voters when the 2019-20 season tips off in November.
The possibility of being unranked in the Star-Advertiser Preseason Top 10 in a few months doesn’t sound right, he said.
He’s ready to back up his beliefs. Tolentino scored 17 points in a win over California Interscholastic Federation powerhouse Mater Dei at the ‘Iolani Summer League in June.
For now, it’s life on the road as Tolentino and his teammates play in various tournaments on the mainland. Then it’ll be back to the weight room, daily workouts at Maryknoll’s Clarence T.C. Ching Gymnasium, and those visions of being a 7-footer with amazing shooting range.
Since his childhood, Tolentino would outrun smaller opponents down the court, haul in passes on the fastbreak. At 6 feet tall in the sixth grade, instead of shooting layups, he would square up outside the block and swish 8-footers all game long. That fluid shooting stroke is still there.
He doesn’t know a lot about the family tree. There’s a great-uncle, he said, who is 6-7. His dad, Grant, recalls a great-grandfather on the Hawaiian side who stood 6-9.
Tolentino’s balance and shooting touch make him a potentially high commodity at the next level. But his favorite player isn’t quite close to 7 feet. It’s Jimmy Butler, the 6-5 shooting guard who is now with the Miami Heat.
Grant, as in Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant, envisions his tallest-ever Spartan as a potential Kevin Durant type of scorer. Tolentino could do it. He has a step-back 3 and a velvety stroke on the baseline. And he loves to work.
Tolentino chatted with Hawaii Prep World recently about the Spartans’ summer-league win over CIF powerhouse Mater Dei, growing up at warp speed, and getting calls from the Philippines national team.
HPW: The win by Maryknoll over California powerhouse Mater Dei, it was tight, then it went a little haywire when Mater Dei got three technical fouls. What do you remember while their coaches were arguing with the refs?
ST: It was crazy. I was at the free-throw line (after a foul) and it was pretty hard to keep my composure.
HPW: Did you want to talk back when their players talked (smack) to you?
ST: No, I’m not like that. I was like, just keep it chill. Keep it cool.
HPW: Then their coach gets ejected and Maryknoll wins.
ST: It was a good team win.
HPW: When you look back, how did that help your team.
ST: It built confidence.
HPW: Then you got hurt.
ST: I was playing basketball at Kalani Summer League and I hurt my hip.
HPW: So that took a couple of weeks to heal up. Then you came back and played against Hawaii Raiders at the ‘Iolani Summer League. You scored 19 points. Of the returnees, guard Niko Robben, post Liko Soares, you’re now one of the veterans.
ST: Everyone on the team pushes me.
HPW: Damien and Kamehameha return a huge number of players. They’re probably going to be the top two teams coming into preseason. With the massive departures to graduation — Marcus Tobin, Makoto Komata, Payton Grant — for Maryknoll, do you want your team to be overlooked? If Maryknoll came into preseason ranked No. 5, would that be fair?
ST: No, I don’t think so. Five? No, I would disagree with that?
HPW: What if Maryknoll was No. 10? Would you be pretty mad?
ST: Yeah, I’d be pretty upset.
HPW: What if Maryknoll was unranked?
ST: That would be pretty surprising.
HPW: Do you remember being in sixth grade and outrunning smaller kids? You were fast, sprinting down the court, catching passes and swishing 8-foot baseline jumpers on the fastbreak. Great footwork and touch? Where do you get that? Is it genetic or pure work ethic?
ST: Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
HPW: Who’s the shooter in your family?
ST: I’m the only basketball player in my family. My whole family are volleyball players. My dad (Grant) played.
HPW: Does volleyball carry over to basketball?
ST: A little bit. Your footwork and coordination.
HPW: Are you on the volleyball team?
ST: Yes, I am.
HPW: So you love both sports. Are you ever at outside hitter?
ST: Yeah, that’s my position.
HPW: You’re never in the middle?
HPW: Which position do you like better?
HPW: So if basketball and volleyball are at the same time, which takes priority?
ST: Basketball, for sure.
HPW: So your love for basketball is a 10?
HPW: And your love for volleyball is?
ST: A 7 or 8.
HPW: But you’re going to continue with two sports through high school.
HPW: I just remember every time I saw you when you were younger, it seemed like you’d grown two inches. Have you done a family tree to trace where it came from? Your dad is around 6-2, 6-3. Which side do you think your height came from?
ST: My dad’s side. The tallest one is 6-7, an uncle on my dad’s side.
HPW: When I was a kid, a friend told me that as an ethnic group, Hawaiians were the eighth-tallest people in the world at one time. Do you get the sore knees from growing?
ST: I’ve always had soreness in my knees, down to my shins. Every day. It’ll keep (hurting) until I stop growing, I think.
HPW: When you were 5, 6 years old, how tall did you think you would be?
ST: I thought I was going to be around 6-2. I didn’t think I would be this tall.
HPW: Did you mom ever notice, this isn’t stopping. I keep having to buy new shoes. (Tolentino wears size 16.)
ST: When I was little, every year, I grew around 5 inches every year.
HPW: So you have brothers and sisters?
ST: My sister, Sheila. She’s 5-6.
HPW: And your family will be traveling soon.
ST: I’ll be playing in Vegas, and my family will go with her to Kansas for a volleyball tournament.
HPW: Then they will return to Vegas. Who enjoys traveling more?
ST: I do. I like seeing new places.
HPW: Your favorite athlete, any sport.
ST: Jimmy Butler. He’s a good player and I like his back story. He was homeless at the age of 13, but that didn’t stop him. He kept building up, he went to college at Marquette. He got drafted by the (Chicago) Bulls.
HPW: Now he’s with…
ST: Miami. I think his best years were with the Chicago Bulls. Then it was Minnesota, and at Philly, he had a chance to go to the finals.
HPW: He had a good playoffs. Now he’s in Miami. What’s going to happen?
ST: He’s probably going to stay for the four years since he signed a four-year contract. I’m hoping they get better players.
HPW: So they were in the running to get Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook.
ST: They wanted to get Russell Westbrook, but he got snatched away.
HPW: If things don’t work out in Houston, before the trade deadline they could ship him out.
ST: Chris Paul would be a good match.
HPW: I don’t think so. I think CP3 needs the ball to be happy. He might not take a lot of shots, but he needs the ball. Jimmy Buckets needs the ball. I think they need somebody who’s more off-ball.That’s interesting. I thought you were going to say Kevin Durant.
ST: I like him, too.
HPW: Favorite team?
ST: Miami Heat because of Jimmy Butler.
HPW: What’s your favorite food at home?
ST: At home? It would be whatever my dad cooks because he cooks the best food. His fried rice is the bomb.
HPW: Does he use strictly leftover rice or does he cook the rice and turn it into fried rice?
ST: He cooks the rice and turns it into fried rice. He adds meats and green onion. Like bacon.
HPW: Does he trim the fat off and toss it?
HPW: Favorite food eating out?
ST: Tacos from Taco Bell. The Chalupa Cravings Box. It’s $6.50. You get a chalupa, crunchy taco, bean burrito, cinnamon twists and a drink.
HPW: That’s a good deal.I thought you were going to say Ruth’s Chris Steak Restaurant or something like that.
ST: I’ve never been there before.
HPW: So you would rather have the Chalupa Cravings Box instead of Rainbows or Zippy’s.
ST: I don’t go there often, but if I go to Rainbows I get the hamburger steak (plate).
HPW: Mac salad?
HPW: How much do you weigh right now?
HPW: You probably work out enough where you could eat three Chalupa Boxes.
HPW: Hobby outside of sports.
ST: Go to the beach or hang out with my friends and watch movies.
HPW: Favorite movie?
ST: I don’t have a favorite movie, but the Spider-Man movie that came out (Far From Home), I’ve watched that three times.
HPW: Favorite TV show?
ST: I like Family Feud and America Says.
HPW: Family Feud, who’s the host?
ST: Steve Harvey.
HPW: And who’s the other host?
ST: (John) Michael Higgins.
HPW: So you would be on that show as a guest and win.
ST: Oh yeah. Yeah.
HPW: Would your family go on Family Feud and win?
ST: Oh yes, seriously. My dad is really good at it.
HPW: We’ve got to set that up. Favorite video game?
ST: I don’t play any video games.
HPW: You’re not allowed to, or…
ST: I just choose (not) to. I’m not a video gamer.
HPW: You don’t have an XBOX or PS4 at home?
ST: No. When I was little, we used to have a Wii, but not anymore.
HPW: So you parents diabolically schemed video games out of your life.
HPW: Because they could’ve bought you an XBOX.
ST: They could if I wanted it.
HPW: You just don’t like video games or you feel it would just take too much time?
HPW: Smart. What do you think about people who are addicted to Fortnite? ‘Oh, it’s summer, I’m going to play 14 straight hours.’
ST: Yeah, it’s crazy. I don’t know how they do it.
HPW: It’s OK to have video games, but if you’re bricking free throws in big games, you might want to adjust a bit.
ST: You might want to think about it.
HPW: Favorite music artist?
ST: I like rap.
HPW: Favorite teacher.
ST: I don’t want to be mean.
HPW: How many teachers would fit in that category?
ST: Five. My third-grade teacher at Heeia Elementary, Mrs. Guro. My fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Parks. I was at Kapunahala Elementary. From this high school, Mr. Kamiya, my world history. I wasn’t the greatest, but he was a nice guy. Funny. And my English teacher, Mrs. Mori. I also really like P.E., so Coach Kelly.
HPW: Do you guys play the basic sports, or do you have dodgeball?
ST: We do dodgeball, kickball, basketball, soccer.
HPW: Do you have classmates who hate P.E. because they don’t want to get spiked by you in volleyball.
ST: I have classmates who don’t like P.E.
HPW: Favorite motto or scripture?
ST: From the Bible, John 3:16. God gave his one and only son to die for us.
HPW: GPA. Can you give it or do you want to keep it a secret?
ST: Oh no. Keep it a secret.
HPW: Is it above 2.0?
HPW: Is it above 2.5?
ST: It’s right around there.
HPW: You’re going into sophomore year. You’ve got time to work on that. Favorite class?
ST: Does P.E. count?
HPW: Yes. What does your mom (Becky) say that sticks with you?
ST: She says, ‘Don’t forget this, don’t forget that.’ Because I’m always forgetting things.
HPW: What does your dad (Grant) always say?
ST: He’s always teaching me things. He calls me, like, slow. Because I move around the house slow. I do things slow.
HPW: What about your coaches?
ST: All my coaches want me to get better, get stronger.
HPW: How does basketball affect your life year-round?
ST: It’s 24/7. Every day is practice or a game. It’s pretty hard. There’s more than one game in one day sometimes.
HPW: Do you get a day off?
ST: Yeah, I get some days off and I rest. I like it. The more games, the better.
HPW: Where did you go to middle school?
ST: I went to King for one year, then I came here for eighth grade.
HPW: Was it a big change?
ST: Yeah, it was a huge change. The biggest thing probably was fights. There’s no fights here (at Maryknoll). Public school, intermediate, it was always scraps every day.
HPW: Do they still have, oh, who’s the bull of the school?
ST: Yeah, they have that, more so middle school.
HPW: Did anyone challenge you to a fight?
ST: No, not really. Some kids might call me out, but I don’t really fight. I’m like, yeah, you win. I don’t really care.
HPW: Oh man, I don’t really miss those days. Youth teams. What teams did you play for?
ST: I played flag football for the Packers. I played basketball when I was really little for the Hawks in PAL (Kaneohe). For three years, I was with the Wolfpack. After PAL, in fourth grade, I joined my first club team, Man2Man. Then I was with Posse. We went to Vegas. That was fun. Then I joined the Hurricanes, went to China and Tahiti. Then I’m with Coach Kelly’s team, the Tar Heels.
HPW: Which was your favorite trip?
ST: Going to Tahiti.
HPW: Was there basketball there or was it just for fun?
ST: Tahiti doesn’t really have basketball players and talent. They’re known for soccer and rugby. The island was nice. It was really beautiful.
HPW: What about China?
ST: It was crazy. We went to Beijing and Shanghai. We played school teams. There was no competition there, either.
HPW: What do you like to do that would surprise people?
ST: Acting. I like to act. I was in drama here. When I was little I was in two plays at CPAC (Castle Performing Arts). I had to sing and dance. It was more classical dancing.
HPW: If you were involved with CPAC then, maybe you’d still be involved now if you had time. Time machine. If you could go anywhere in the past or future, when and where would you go?
ST: I’d like to go into the past to when my parents were my age and see.
HPW: You’d want to see them as kids.
ST: Yeah, or generations in the past and see my family. In the future, I’d want to go to when I’m in my 40s or 50s and see how it is.
HPW: Sometimes in science fiction, you don’t want to know what happens in the future. Or you might be able to come back and alter your future.
ST: I can’t change that because that would be my future.
HPW: Maybe, maybe not. OK, the bucket list, top three places you’d like to visit.
ST: I’d want to go to Australia or Europe. Maybe Paris. Florida. Canada.
HPW: What is the history and background of your name?
ST: The first couple of months, my name was Presley. I guess my dad’s side of the family didn’t like it, so my mom and dad chose Sage. I would’ve liked Presley. There’s not a lot of Presleys. There’s a lot of Sages.
HPW: Sage is a nice name. Wisdom. If you want me to start writing your name as Presley…
ST: No, no, Sage is fine.
HPW: Your middle name, Kainalu.
ST: That’s from my dad. He really likes the beach.
HPW: Tolentino is Portuguese. What are your other ethnicities?
ST: Hawaiian, Filipino, Caucasian.
HPW: Caucasian? Which one?
HPW: Any shout outs?
ST: My family. My mom and dad. They always push me to be great and teach me to do the right things. They do everything.
HPW: How tall do you want to be now?
ST: I’m not sure. Maybe two or three more inches.
HPW: That’s what the doctors said, too?
ST: They’re not even sure. When I was little, they predicted my height to be 6-9.
HPW: If you end up 7-2, you’d be content.
ST: That would be crazy.
HPW: Your game reminds me a little of Ralph Sampson. He had a nice jump shot, pretty athletic, could jump, block shots. Rik Smits, similar, too, he wasn’t as athletic, but he was 7-4. He played for the Pacers and he could hit the outside shot. Your game is interesting because there’s no limit. Coach Kelly brought up that the Philippines national team contacted your parents.
ST: I guess they saw me and noticed me. They want me to play for them. It’s kind of like crazy. It’s an honor.
HPW: If you play in a pro league there, there’s different levels. You don’t get paid much on the lower levels, but there’s opportunity. In Europe, there’s no college basketball, so guys like Ricky Rubio start playing pro ball at 15 or 16. Could you see doing that?
ST: Yeah, but I’d go to college first. My top three would be Washington, Oregon, UCLA.
HPW: After that, would you play for the Philippines national team?
ST: Yeah, I could.