If you ask, Zach Bailey will tell you why basketball life on the Valley Island is good.
Very good. After all, building a Division II powerhouse on an island that had limited access to facilities and offseason leagues for such a long time is not easy.
For Bailey, a Physical Education and Health teacher at Maui Preparatory Academy, nothing is quite like the moment. His boys basketball squad is two steps away from a state championship after racing past KIF champion Kapaa, 75-50, on Thursday.
“We’re grateful to be here and have a chance to do something great,” Bailey said. “We just want to relish this time.”
As usual, unbeaten Na Pueo had balanced scoring with an offense that runs through Drew Triplett. The 6-foot-1 senior had 18 points on efficient shooting: 6-for-9 from the field and 6-for-7 at the free-throw line. He also got fairly close to a triple-double with seven rebounds and eight assists, committing only two turnovers. Dylan Falk tallied 18 points, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, and Jimmy Falk scored 12 points.
Koenig Biegle added nine points and a team-high nine rebounds, and Levi Basurto had eight points. It was essentially a six-man rotation until three younger Pueo entered the game in the final two minutes.
“No surprises. I saw some film (on Kapaa) and we knew what to expect. We executed our game plan,” Bailey said. “We started out slow and adjusted to the physicality and how the game’s being called. We settled down and took good shots, and defended.”
Next up is top-seeded Kohala, the defending D-II state champion. Looking ahead beyond the semifinals is not exactly what MPA does. Na Pueo has been active and training year-round, the results show, and that edge, that chip is on those shoulders.
“They don’t need extra motivation, but when they see the rankings and seedings, they’re ‘All right. Fine.’ But it’s just a number next to our name,” Bailey said. “A ranking doesn’t matter. You’ve still got to play the game.”
Maui Prep was 3-0 during its preseason trip to Oahu, when Triplett scored 51 against Saint Louis I-AA and a more modest 31 against Kaiser. He has not reached the 30-point threshold in three weeks, eschewing big scoring totals for stronger team results.
Triplett’s evolution was likely to happen sooner or later. Opposing coaches would have regularly sent specialized defenses to counter him. He still gets more attention than most.
“(Kapaa) keyed in on him, but he’s so versatile and we have other guys who are capable,” coach Bailey said. “One of our other guys was hitting from 3, so who are you going to guard? We have balance, which is awesome.”
Triplett averaged 32.3 points per game through five preseason games and three regular-season contests. In his last seven games, he is averaging 17.3 points per game. Maui Prep (15-0 overall) has won by an average margin of 35.1 points in those seven contests.
Kohala presents a host of problems for any foe. The Cowboys are experienced, talented and have an offensive force in guard O’Shen Cazimero, the 2020 Hawaii Gatorade player of the year.
“They have a really good guard in 20. He’s really shifty, can score in transition, hits the mid-range, good from 3 and he gets other guys involved,” Bailey said. “Their other guys, they have a knockdown shooter and another guy can score baseline to baseline. They dive on the floor to get loose balls.”
Cazimero, like Triplett, is in a special category.
“It’s good to have a great player, but he makes other guys better,” Bailey said. “He’s a left-handed version of Drew.”
MPA in some ways is similar to Academy of the Pacific (AOP) many moons ago, a D-II program that eventually gravitated to D-I and became a statewide powerhouse in short time. Unlike AOP, however, MPA is built for the long haul. New gym, beautiful new campus, and a coach/teacher on staff. Bailey is originally from Florida, where schools and talent abound.
On Maui, it has been a pandemic of restrictions and even without those, there just aren’t a lot of year-round leagues, tournaments and camps. So why does Bailey stay?
“The opportunity at Maui Prep, where people believe in me. My wife and kids are comfortable in the community. In education, we do it for the kids and relationships,” Bailey said. “One of our pillars is about relationships in life. Enjoy it. Be in the moment. Help them grow.”