By Paul Honda
It could’ve been a three-day visit to the Big Island for the Kamehameha Warriors.
Instead, the precaution of staying grounded while the state was under tsunami warning did them good. The biggest and only boys basketball game of Saturday, a state-tourney play-in game between Kamehameha and Honokaa, was postponed to Monday, 4 p.m.
After winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s third-place tournament, Kamehameha stayed home on Oahu. Honokaa, a team that went through a coaching change in the off-season, hit its peak in the postseason.
“Hopefully, we catch some magic,” coach Cheyenne Meyer said.
He was the longtime coach of the Dragons before stepping away to assist Daphne Honma, coach of the UH-Hilo women’s team. With Honokaa boys coach Eddie Rodrigues on hiatus due to his work schedule, Meyer returned and found himself in a tough situation.
“Our problem has been playing selfish,” the former Dragon standout said. “Now these guys are molded to my ways.”
Honokaa stunned Kealakehe, a team that surprised Hilo in preseason, in last wek’s BIIF playoffs. Honokaa’s 57-35 win at Afook-Chinen Hilo Civic Auditorium gave the Dragons third place and a shot at the state tourney. No BIIF team has won the play-in game against the ILH’s third-place team in recent years, but Meyer is hopeful.
“We haven’t played too many complete games this year, but Kealakehe was our most complete game. If we play how we’re capable of playing, I like our chances.”
Tyler Meyer, the coach’s nephew, had 21 points, including three treys, in the win over Kealakehe. Jake Vallente (17 points) was another key weapon for Honokaa (9-4 BIIF). For the Dragons, it hasn’t been a season of depending on one scorer, though.
“I don’t have a go-to guy. We need everyone to play well, to collectively play well,” Coach Meyer said.
As much as Honokaa may be a mystery to most Oahu teams, Kamehameha is a puzzle, too. Unlike Oahu Interscholastic Association teams, which were seen by a statewide audience on OC 16, ILH squads haven’t been on TV.
The Warriors are not as mysterious as they are efficient, though. Micah Christenson is a matchup issue, a tough rebounder at 6-foot-5 (with hops) who likes to step out and shoot from the perimeter. Reserve forward Charlton Tang is sneaky-fast in transition and combines with Devin Kuhns to give the Warriors a reliable, physical presence at the 4.
Then there are the gunners who are slashers. Between Dyrbe Enos, Shane Matayoshi and the rest of the backcourt, Kamehameha has dangerous 3-point shooters who are proficient at attacking the basket and drawing fouls. In fact, they get to the line with some regularity, more than Tang or Christenson.
Kamehameha’s 2-3 matchup zone can cause paralysis in teams that lack perimeter shooting, and it protects the paint for the Warriors, who are generally not a tall team.
Kealakehe, a very athletic team, found itself down early and never recovered against Honokaa. Kamehameha is is athletic, fundamentally sound, and will run if you give them a chance. Playing at home is a big plus for the Dragons, who have some of the most needling, sarcastic fans in the state. Lester Bryan Armory is a smaller, compact facility that amplifies the vocal fans of Honokaa.
It could be a tough ride from the airport to Honokaa, but the Warriors could help themselves by keeping Honokaa’s crowd as quiet as possible. Easier said than done.
For the winner, there’s one day (Tuesday) to prep for the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships, which tip off on Wednesday.