In some circles, fundamental basketball is considered corny.
The Moanalua boys think otherwise. They move the ball upcourt after misses and makes alike. Passes first, dribbles second on most possessions, since passes cover more ground in less time. Whether it was Josiah Kauhola or Marcus Keene or any other Menehune ballhandler, the ball got upcourt as fast as any team has done it all season.
The result? Forty-nine first-half points en route to an 84-64 win over fifth-ranked Mililani on Saturday in the Oahu Interscholastic Association Red Conference playoffs.
It was about two months ago when I suggested that Moanalua and Kalaheo might tilt the scoreboard in the regular-season opener. I knew Moanalua was fully capable. I was just a bit early.
Fast-forward to Saturday, and it seemed more likely that No. 4 Na Menehune and the Trojans could and would engage in an all-out assault at full speed. Mililani tried. Reginald “R.J.” Griffin had some sweet pull-up jumpers and drives to keep his team close.
But nobody realized Moanalua had come to run. It wasn’t obviously mechanical in any way. They simply pushed the ball and there were teammates upcourt waiting for layup opportunities.
“Coach (Dennis) Agena came in on Monday and did a lot of clinic stuff with our team,” Moanalua coach Greg Tacon said.
That’s right. Clinic work. Agena’s Kalakaua Clinic has done ballhandling drills like nobody else in the islands since 1969. Boring? Some of those drills are the same ones engineered by pioneer Press Maravich and his legendary son, Pistol Pete Maravich.
Moanalua didn’t pull any of the Pistol’s fake-behind-the-back-pass layups or even his widely ignored, yet highly deceptive wrist-snap bounce pass. But the drills couldn’t have hurt; they had just 12 turnovers, a paltry figure for an 84-point night.
Some coaches opt to go light at practice before a big game and turn down the risk of injury. With one week of no games, Tacon had his team scrimmage hard in the two practices leading into the game.
“We went full court. The kids went hard at each other,” he said.
So, Moanalua didn’t break the century mark, but it wasn’t for lack of trying to push the tempo to warp speed for 32 minutes. Mililani slowed the pace in the third quarter and Moanalua was smart enough to adjust. Turns out a slowdown game isn’t Mililani’s cup of tea either. Trojans coach Ed Gonzales goes deep on his bench and has always endorsed an uptempo pace. Mililani, which had called off its fullcourt press, saw Moanalua’s lead expand to 17 under the slowdown directive.
It’s a conundrum of sorts for the Trojans. They can outrun most teams in the OIA. They can win slowdown games, too, as Kahuku learned recently. But if you’re Coach Gonzales and the opportunity to face Moanalua materializes again, what to do?
Play your game, rotate 10 players and run like heck? Or walk it up?
I say unleash all the dogs and let ’em run, but that’s just me, a guy who has been waiting for the OIA’s next 200-point game since Kalaheo outgunned Farrington 102-94 a quarter-century ago.
If fundamental, superior skills and 200-point games are corny, I’ll take them.
• Moanalua’s first half produced more points than some teams scored in a full game: Twenty field goals in 37 attempts (54 percent) including 4-for-11 from the arc; a 17-11 edge on the glass; and only five turnovers.
• Marcus Monroe had one point in the half, but had five rebounds and a block to lead his team in the paint.
• Reece Racoma’s sensational shooting in the first half: 5-for-5 from the arc, 19 points, an assist, a steal and just one turnover.
The beauty of that half, and Moanalua’s win, for the matter, isn’t that they scored a lot of points or shot so well. It’s that they played steady defense, made Mililani’s sharpshooter, Griffin, work hard for every shot, and played team ball. Unlike most high school teams, Moanalua used extremely quick ball movement on the break, and executed in the halfcourt against the 1-2-2 zone. Racoma’s pure shooter’s form, which includes a nice, sharp release up and forward rather than the typical flick forward, is a demo model for any guard who hasn’t developed long-range consistency yet.
For fans who like pinball-action hoops, a Moanalua-Mililani rematch probably would have fewer possessions and points. But a state-tourney matchup for Moanalua with Hilo could turn into a shootout. Getting a lead on any of the ILH powerhouses could force them into the quick tempo and a high-scoring battle.
For teams that have limited weaponry, slowdown games are preferred in the playoffs and state tourney. When the arsenal is ample, as it is for Moanalua, it just makes sense to get as many possessions as possible. In that sense, Tacon proves he’s as flexible as any coach in the islands. He’s had defensive-minded teams at both Punahou and Moanalua, but has always looked to maximize his offensive strengths.
If Moanalua wins the state title with uptempo basketball, score one for Tacon, Paul Westhead — any coach who has embraced efficient, smart fastbreak basketball — and even James Naismith.
After all, it was Naismith who came up with a game that would give his P.E. class students an aerobic activity during the cold winter months in Kansas. He was asked by the school’s track and field coach to keep those athletes busy and in shape in the off-season. Naismith could’ve named the game runball and it would’ve been as accurate a description.
Here’s to the game and those who play it the way it was designed. Run, run, run!
By Paul Honda