The crown never comes before the coronation.
Damien’s move to Division I, along with a No. 3 ranking in the final Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball Top 10, made it quite feasible that the Monarchs would be the top team in the state for the 2019-20 season. A Division II state champion moving up to D-I and winning the title immediately is rare. Damien fit the bill.
However, the departure of their junior point guard, Jydon Hall, could be a setback for the fast-rising program. Hall, better known to friends as “Boogie,” is now in Georgia.
“We had a long conversation,” Damien coach Alvin Stephenson said. “I told him, I support you if you have a better situation, I understand your situation. A lot of it that’s important was for his dad to see him play high school ball. I hope it works out well for him. He made that decision last week. It was something he was struggling with all summer.”
Hall (13 ppg) is a basketball fanatic, like his teammates. Whenever there was gym time for workouts, the 5-foot-9 hoopster was there in Bishop Scanlan Gymnasium on campus, working on his shot. He spent much of the summer on the road, playing with the potent Hoop Dreams club team of Hilo on the mainland, in Honolulu, and in Hilo. But nothing gave an indication that he was moving 5,000 miles away.
“At first I thought, what, you’re leaving? But he’s a growing boy and every boy needs a father in his life. Sometimes mom can’t do what a father can. She loves him a lot, but it’s him wanting to have his father in his life,” Stephenson said. “I give him a lot of props and I commend him for wanting to go build that relationship.”
The sometimes fiery tone of their relationship was something Stephenson embraced.
“Boogie (added a) lot of energy and fire to the team. Some people at times took his technical fouls as disrespect, but he has a pure passion for basketball. The same goes for Hayden (Bayudan), Jake (Holtz) and Bryce (Forbes). We’ve got some other guys who are ready to step up. We’ll still shock some people.
The good news is that Forbes, a 6-7 senior, is still here. Rumors had swirled that Forbes (12 ppg) might move to the continent.
“Bryce is still here. He actually got a partial offer to Georgetown. He may go to a prep school if he doesn’t gain enough weight. They want him to gain weight and get stronger,” Stephenson said.
After a strong performance in the D-II state tournament last season, it is no surprise that other options opened up for Forbes. He has a fluidity and motor that aren’t common for 6-7 players in the islands. His perimeter shot improved and he looks the part of a future D-I college wing.
“He has prep schools totally after him to persuade him, but he’s totally committed to play in D-I and win another state title at Damien,” Stephenson added.
The Monarchs would likely have entered the upcoming season ranked among the top two. While Kamehameha added All-State Fab 15 selection Kordel Ng, formerly of now-defunct St. Francis, Damien is down two elite starters. Forbes was still on Oahu during the summer, playing with the Monarchs in the ‘Iolani Summer League.
In the Cinderella story that was Damien boys basketball in 2018-19, the Monarchs defeated nearly every Top five team in the state. As a Division II program, Damien spent the season among the top four teams in the weekly Star-Advertiser Top 10. Even the eventual D-I state champion, Maryknoll, lost to Damien in preseason. The only other team to beat Maryknoll was Kamehameha, a young team that returns most of its rotation.
Damien was 28-2 last season, 12-0 in ILH D-II. The Monarchs were 9-2 against Top 10 teams with wins over Maryknoll, Punahou, Kamehameha, St. Francis, Kalaheo, Kapolei, Kailua, Lahainaluna and Farrington. It was a surprise to lots of observers, including their head coach, who had opted for D-II back in July of 2018. The move to D-I is no surprise.
“That was always on our minds, to move into D-I and make history,” Stephenson said of his players and staff. “Bryce wants to go to a big college, and that would put other Hawaii players on the map. And that’s the same with Jake Holtz, he went to a lot of camps and he has schools interested in him, too.”
Holtz (15 ppg) is a physical 6-4 quarterback with a big arm who has led Damien to a 2-0 start on the gridiron. His first love, however, is hoops. His ability to rebound, lead the fastbreak and finish with dunks makes him unstoppable sometimes.
“I watched Jake grow from being a center to a guard. That just shows how much work he’s put in this summer. They love his size, that was the big question, can he make the transition,” Stephenson said. “Losing Boogie was a big loss, but it was a huge gain for Jake, able to move him to the wing now. Hayden is more than capable of being at the point, no longer being in the shadow of Boogie. I guess there’s some blessings in disguise.”
Stephenson always viewed playing in the ILH, regardless of division, as a tough battleground. It gets no easier in D-I, the toughest schedule top to bottom in the state.
“In the ILH, anybody can beat anyone else. Last place, first place, it comes down to the players. I’ve seen guys in Division II, maybe three or four years ago, playing Christian Academy last game of the season, one of their guys caught fire, hitting shots fading out of bounds, we barely won. You can’t bring your ‘B’ or ‘C’ game for anybody. That’s what I preach to our guys,” he said.
That’s why he supports his players when they travel in the offseason for more exposure.
“I tell the college guys that we here on the islands don’t get opportunities, that’s why I send guys to camps,” Stephenson said. “After they see our guys, they email back, ‘OK, we want to talk more to you about them.’ ”
The upcoming season includes a swing through the ‘Iolani Classic, and a journey to the Damien Classic in California, where the Monarchs will play in the top (Platinum) division. ‘Iolani played in the same tourney last season, but in the Gold division.
“I know there’s a lot of expectations for us. We’re going to do our best to achieve our goals,” Stephenson said.
One key factor will be junior Tino Atonio, a 6-5 volleyball player who has been injured in the past two basketball seasons. He injured his foot as a freshman, and then hurt his groin during the state tourney in February. He showed signs of breaking out during the summer league as junior year begins.
“We have our bar set really high for him. Hopefully his confidence comes out and they see how hard he has worked. He’s taking Dorian Penebacker’s spot,” Stephenson said. “He lost a lot of weight and dunked for the first time this summer. He got in the gym and has been working out.”
So have the other Monarchs.
“Bryce is like that. Hayden is like that. Jake is like that,” Stephenson said. “They drive me nuts trying to distract me to get the gym key.”