Two ginormous tournaments. Thirty-two teams. Four days and nights. This is a roundballer’s marathon of sweet delight, except for one thing.
The tournaments run concurrently. When Na Menehune Holiday Classic and the St. Francis/Merv Lopes Classic tip off this morning, basketball aficionados will have choices to make. Some will be simple. Some will be painful.
But there is one small gift this year: The Merv Lopes Classic has moved from King Armory in Kaneohe to Manoa Recreation Center. That means, with lighter holiday-season traffic, commuting between the tournaments is more realistic. That is, if you are a hoopaholic who is on vacation or works nights.
Here’s my take on Day 1.
Game One: University High vs. Roosevelt (Na Menehune, 9 a.m.) or Castle vs. Pearl City (Merv Lopes, 9:30 a.m.). The Junior Rainbows could’ve been quite an intriguing team if not for a key injury to their best player early this month. Roosevelt? A very dangerous squad that could win the OIA Division I title after taking the league’s D-II crown last season. Castle and Pearl City are finding their way. Though Castle-PC should be close, Roosevelt has a marquee player in 6-foot-4 Kaipo Pale, who is averaging 17 boards per game and never stops running. Edge: UHS-Roosevelt.
Game Two: AOP vs. Waipahu (Na Menehune, 10:30 a.m.) or Damien vs. Kapolei (Merv Lopes, 11 a.m.). AOP is quickly rising in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, from No. 9 in Week 1 to No. 6 last week. Last week’s upset of then-No. 1 Kamehameha awakened the last of the fanslivingincaves. Damien has first-year coach Kawika Smith, while Kapolei is young, but very talented. If Smith could suit up for the Monarchs, well, this would be an easy choice. But if you haven’t seen AOP yet, treat yourself. You earned it. Edge: AOP-Waipahu.
Game Three: Waiakea vs. Kaiser (Na Menehune, noon) or Kalaheo vs. Leilehua (Merv Lopes, 12:30 p.m.). The Warriors of the BIIF are always a state-tourney quality team. The Cougars have some talent and could be a darkhorse in the OIA Red. Kalaheo, meanwhile, has Alika Smith at the helm and is finding itself battling hard in the OIA’s D-II, where Farrington and McKinley are very good. (Neither should be in D-II, but that’s another story.) Leilehua could be the surprise team of the OIA despite the loss of coach Keith Spencer (Saint Louis). First-year head coach Pat Wetzel has the Mules heading higher after last week’s upset win over Mililani. This is a close call, but I expect a tighter game from the Warriors and Cougs. Edge: Waiakea-Kaiser.
Game Four: McKinley vs. Moanalua (Na Menehune, 1:30 p.m.) or Kamehameha I-AA vs. Christian Academy (Merv Lopes, 2 p.m.). The Tigers are fierce, if small. Good shooting team, struggles against tough fullcourt pressure … but finds a way to compete no matter what. That’s how it goes when you have a coach as solid as Bob Morikuni. Moanalua is the host team and has endured one of the toughest nonconference schedules in recent memory of ANY team. Will it make the Menehune tougher? I think so. Edge: McKinley-Moanalua.
Game Five: El Toro (Calif.) vs. Mid-Pacific (Na Menehune, 3 p.m.) or Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Kahuku (Merv Lopes, 3:30 p.m.) MPI has potential, but El Toro is a mystery. KS-Hawaii was here just a few days ago in the Punahou Invitational and remains a Top 10 team; the Warriors lost to Punahou 52-46 in the semifinals. Kahuku’s unbeaten run ended at home with a loss to Kaiser last week. The Red Raiders are tall and can shoot the 3. Dealing with fullcourt pressure is an issue, and that’s something KS-Hawaii loves to do. Finally, a matchup that favors the tourney in Manoa. Kailua can be a fun team to watch, while Saint Louis is finding its footing under new coach Keith Spencer. Edge: KS-Hawaii/Kahuku.
Game Six: Waianae vs. Kaimuki (Na Menehune, 4:30 p.m.) or Kailua vs. Saint Louis (Merv Lopes, 4 p.m.). Not a bad matchup, but if you’re already at Manoa, it might be more worthwhile to avoid rush-hour traffic and just be early for the best matchup of the day at 5:30. Edge: Kailua-Saint Louis.
Game Seven: St. Joseph vs. Maryknoll (Na Menehune, 6 p.m.) or Farrington vs. Punahou (Merv Lopes, 5:30 p.m.) Farrington is ranked third and Punahou is fourth coming into today’s action. Easily the best matchup of ranked teams, especially since the Govs routed the Buffanblu 60-43 early in the season. Punahou didn’t have center DeForest Buckner then, however, and the team has begun to find its identity lately. St. Joe is always interesting with a core the remains mostly intact from last year. Sebi Ohara-Saft is showing signs of emerging as a reliable scorer. Edge: Farrington-Punahou.
Game Eight: Punahou I-AA vs. Mililani (Na Menehune, 7:30 p.m.) or Houston AK-St. Francis (Merv Lopes, 7 p.m.) It’s quite a blessing to see games in the Lopes Classic finish at an earlier hour. Punahou I-AA, a.k.a. Division II team, is solid and could beat the Trojans. That wouldn’t shock me. However, I’ve yet to see the first-year varsity team of St. Francis, and I’m curious about Houston AK. Tried googling the school. No luck. Edge: Houston AK-St. Francis.
If you are, indeed, a basketball lifer, addict, hoopaholic, don’t worry. Moanalua always has good food at the concession stand. The Merv Lopes tourney has always had good food, too. If there were a way to see all 16 games, it would be amazing. Instead, we’ll have to pick and choose, weigh the pluses and minuses with the hassles of traffic. It’s a good time to be a fan.
• Na Menehune Holiday Classic
University vs. Roosevelt, 9 a.m.
AOP vs. Waipahu, 10:30 a.m.
Waiakea vs. Kaiser, noon
McKinley vs. Moanalua, 1:30 p.m.
El Toro (Calif.) vs. Mid-Pacific, 3 p.m.
Waianae vs. Kaimuki, 4:30 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. Maryknoll, 6 p.m.
Punahou I-AA vs. Mililani, 7:30 p.m.
• St. Francis/Merv Lopes Prep Classic
At Manoa Rec. Center
Castle vs. Pearl City, 9:30 a.m.
Damien vs. Kapolei, 11 a.m.
Kalaheo vs. Leilehua, 12:30 p.m.
Kamehameha I-AA vs. Christian Academy, 2 p.m.
Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Kahuku, 3:30 p.m. (new court 1)
Kailua vs. Saint Louis, 4 p.m.
Farrington vs. Punahou, 5:30 p.m.
Houston AK vs. Saint Francis, 7 p.m.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser