The canvas is blank at Kalaheo, which is something coach Rob Pardini seems to enjoy.
The Mustangs graduated tremendous talent last June, including scoring guard Captain Whitlock and Noah Woodby. With Andrew Kearney and Ryan Pardini leading the way, Kalaheo looked like a team nearing regular-season form in a 65-27 win over Waianae on Monday night at the Pete Smith Classic.
Another key returnee, scrappy Harry Wallace, is sidelined with a foot injury, but the Mustangs (2-0) made do with a youthful, but balanced lineup. Pardini was selective with his shots, hit two treys and finished with a team-high 13 points. After scoring 22 points in the state-tournament opener last season at Maui, Pardini could go into hyper-launch mode.
Instead, the ball is moving around the perimeter and the Mustangs are getting open looks and slashing to the bucket. Kearney, who packed on some muscle since last season, is now a 6-foot-2 point center. Coach Pardini has given him free rein to pound the glass, run the fastbreak, attack the rim, protect the basket and, perhaps most crucially, make the key pass.
“I like big guards. He sees the floor well and it starts with him,” Pardini said. “He can finish with strength.”
Kearney finished the game against Waianae with a modest 12 points, but his all-around game gives Kalaheo a valuable weapon.
“It’s a new position for me. I enjoy passing the ball and getting these guys open looks,” he said, noting the shooting skills of teammates like Noah Smith, brother of former standout Kekai Smith. “We’ve all grown. The main thing is we’ve got a lot of young guys. I understand what it’s like to be a freshman or sophomore playing, getting the jitters before the game, messing up, going in the tank. We just want to make them realize it’s a next-play mentality.”
The Mustangs, who have their usual height and length advantage, did some experimenting with a halfcourt trap that didn’t dominate the Seariders, but made them work a little harder.
“We’ve been working hard on defense in the offseason. Really hard,” Kearney said. “We’re always going through man-to-man principles to get it all down. The halfcourt traps, we’ve been working on it this week.”
The offensive end is quick and opportunistic in transition, but the halfcourt game adds a sprinkling of patience this season.
“I’m glad we’re more unselfish,” Coach Pardini said. “Very unselfish. We still have some growing pains. We have to play solid halfcourt defense. I’ve excited with this group. It’s great to see that.”
Kearney and Ryan Pardini aren’t very chatty on the court, but Kalaheo has great communication on the court — and from the bench — with Wallace.
“He’s our energy guy and he’s an amazing student,” Coach Pardini said. “He’s going to Stanford, USC or Georgetown. He has a 4.0 GPA and it’s all AP classes. He communicates well. This team, they’re all sharp and it carries over to the court.”
Kalaheo meets Punahou II today, 6:30 p.m. They leave later in the week to play in Baldwin’s tournament (Maui).