By Paul Honda
As the old cliche goes, prior preparation prevents poor performance.
For No. 3 Punahou, prepping for No. 1 Kamehameha’s 2-3 zone — a wrinkle that separated the Warriors from most Interscholastic League of Honolulu teams in recent years — meant developing a quick skip pass from one wing to the other. Last night, there were passes that went from the wing to the opposite corner, where gunners like Taylor Crabb launched open 3-pointers.
“We were ready for it,” Punahou coach Alika Smith said following his team’s thrilling 48-45 win over Kamehameha in last night’s regular-season opener for both teams.
Punahou didn’t hit a lot of treys, 1-for-10 entering the final quarter, but Kamehameha didn’t rely on the ol’ zone as much as it has before. The Warriors trapped out of it, hoping to get turnovers and force the taller visitors into poor shot selection. Didn’t work. The Buffanblu were up 14-4 before the first quarter ended.
Still, Kamehameha’s 2-3 zone did enough, limiting Punahou to 2-for-15 shooting in the second quarter. The third quarter, featuring a fullcourt press, was also pivotal. Kamehameha took the lead for the first time since the opening minute of play, and the lead flip-flopped as both teams mixed and matched trap defenses.
But the fourth quarter, which is usually owned by the defending state champ Warriors, saw a change. Kamehameha shot just 4-for-12, missing all three tries from the arc, and didn’t attempt a foul shot.
Punahou, meanwhile, was 5-for-9 from the field, including 3-pointers by Matt Feldman and Crabb — the latter for a 46-45 lead.
What does all the trapping and adjusting mean?
Maybe this: Week 1 of the ILH season is already sparking the next phase of evolutionary process. In other seasons, maybe the process unfolds in Week 2 or 3. This season, with so many teams so close in talent and skill, things will morph quickly and suddenly. Even Mid-Pacific, ranked seventh and off to a fine start (nonconference), lost at Maryknoll last night, and Maryknoll is a squad that’s struggled through preseason.
Henry Cassiday’s free throws gave Punahou a three-point margin. Then he volunteered to take on defensive duties against Kamehameha star Micah Christenson in the final minute. Whatever the stories are about Cassiday’s presence (or lack thereof) early in preseason, he showed some mettle by giving Christenson a tough time; the 6-foot-5 Warrior didn’t get a shot attempt in that final 1:12.
He hit two free throws for a 48-45 lead
“My mom’s in Canada visiting my brother. She missed my birthday yesterday,” Cassiday said. “I wanted to make the free throws for her.”
At 6-3 (or 6-4), the two-sport senior could develop into one of the state’s best defensive players. He’s stronger than most players at that height, and he has good hops.
“Our second team played defense on us for 45 minutes yesterday. Without them pushing us, we wouldn’t be where we are. They have great attitudes,” Cassiday said.
The first time Kamehameha and Punahou played was at the James Alegre Invitational, where Malik Johnson (6-5) had 21 points and 10 boards for the Buffanblu in a 58-55 loss. This time, it was the other sophomore tower, DeForest Buckner (6-7) who was monstrous with 13 points and 23 caroms. Johnson had six points and three boards, but was happy with the win.
“(Kamehameha) covered the back side more this time. The first time, my teammates set me up for that,” he said.
Smith, meanwhile, may be enjoying the season as much as any coach in the state. He never seems to stop smiling after games, win or lose.
“Kamehameha is well-coached. You always hear about their big guy (Christenson), but the other four are huge. They come through again and again,” said Smith, who burned his final time out with more than 2 minutes left.
“I wanted to keep (Kamehameha) off balance, extend the defense and trap. Keep ’em uncomfortable,” Smith said.
Since the start of preseason, Smith has kept his team humming, using its athleticism and height as weapons in an uptempo pace.
“I feel good. It’s a tribute to the kids and how hard they’ve been working,” the former UH guard said. “They played a great team at their place and won. But it could be the other way around when they come to our place.”
The most intriguing tidbit? Punahou didn’t have Kaiwi Crabb, a 6-5, 272-pound offensive lineman who is a solid basketball player. The Buffanblu stepped up without him and answered any questions about experience in ILH crunch time.
As for Kamehameha, there’s no doubt that the week away from basketball, from his team, had a subtle effect on Christenson and the Warriors. Very minor factor; there is a long season ahead. But it did make a bit of a difference. He’s one of the top players in the state, period, but didn’t get many touches in the first half.
A lot of that was due to Punahou’s defense, and part of that was due to Kamehameha’s inability to get him the ball — but that’s why great teams go back to the practice floor and work on these issues. By the second quarter, Christenson was bringing the ball upcort at times — think Louisville circa 1985 and Darnell Griffith. That got him at least one touch on each possession.
The chess game, a season-long duel between Kamehameha guru Jesse Nakanishi and Punahou’s Smith, will be fascinating to follow, on par with anything else I love about the hoops season on any level, including the pros.