To the uninitiated, Division II basketball has no glory.
The rest of us know better. With the field whittled down from 12 teams to eight due in part to budget cuts, the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA Boys Basketball Division II State Championships is uniquely compelling this season.
It’s more than just eight. It could be an Elite Eight. Roosevelt, the top seed, built up a respectable resume in nonconference play, including a 62-43 win over Oahu Interscholastic Association Red West power Mililani. After some sterling performances before a statewide TV audience during the OIA White playoffs, the Rough Riders and their wow factor merited a lot of attention.
But below Roosevelt, there’s confusion about how or why an unproven Seabury Hall team drew the No. 2 seed from the HHSAA basketball committee while a proven winner in St. Joseph was tagged third.
Seabury Hall, tall and talented, hasn’t beaten a Top 10 team this season. Still, the Spartans may have been the best team in the MIL regardless of classification, but the league’s schedule left them largely untested.
St. Joe, meanwhile, traveled in December and notched a 56-50 win at Moanalua, as well as a loss to Kamehameha. The Cardinals were the best team in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation’s East Division, which combined D-I and D-II teams.
University, the No. 4 seed, emerged out of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, where the D-II ranks are gradually growing more powerful.
Here’s a look at the opening-round matchups on Thursday.
Kapaa vs. University, Farrington/Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse, 5 p.m.
On paper: The Warriors went 11-2 en route to the Kauai Interscholastic Federation title. University won the Interscholastic League of Honolulu crown with a 14-1 mark.
The skinny: The Warriors were steady, if unspectacular, in KIF play. If anything, Kapaa is a public-address announcer’s dream team thanks to high-scoring Spam Lindsey.
Longtime University High coach Walt Quitan has benefited all season from the scoring of Isaiah DeLaura. Getting to the tourney is another remarkable feat by the Junior Rainbows; their girls basketball team also made it to the Big Dance this season.
X factor: The early starting time is an advantage for UHS and its fans. Kapaa fans would be better off with a later starting time, particularly for fans flying in after work from the Garden Island.
Pahoa vs. Roosevelt, , Farrington/Richard Kitamura Memorial Fieldhouse, 7 p.m.
On paper: Roosevelt (18-6) is ranked 10th in the Star-Bulletin Top 10. Pahoa went 6-9 in a tough BIIF schedule.
The skinny: The Rough Riders were on statewide TV during the OIA White playoffs, so center Kaipo Pale is no secret, not any more. The Rough Riders can grind out wins, never settling for poor shots no matter how far behind they are, and they do know about falling behind.
Twice in the playoffs, Kailua had Roosevelt under control. Twice, Roosevelt rallied for wins, including a rally that vaporized a 17-point deficit. Forward Brendan Nakatani has been a quiet, but relentless factor, continually attacking the baseline and elbows, getting to the foul line and keeping the Rough Riders in games against much taller and bigger teams.
Pahoa, though, is in prime position to pull off a sneaky upset. Isaiah Ekau is one of the best athletes to come out of the BIIF in recent years. Ekau has matured as a senior, leading the Daggers to wins over Kamehameha-Hawaii and Kohala. The latter win eliminated the perennial D-II powerhouse from the postseason.
X factor: A big benefit for Pahoa was the BIIF’s schedule, which merged D-I and D-II teams during regular-season play. In the BIIF East, where almost every team was capable of winning the league title, Pahoa was in most of its games against D-I foes, and D-II rivals like St. Joseph made for outstanding competition.
Academy of the Pacific vs. Seabury Hall, Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym, 5 p.m.
On paper: AOP went 15-3 in ILH D-II play under former BYUH coach Chic Hess, who did a masterful teaching job. Seabury Hall went 10-0 against MIL D-II competition.
The skinny: The Dolphins needed a 66-49 win over Hawaii Baptist in Monday’s play-in game to punch a ticket to the Dance. AOP is a dangerous squad and has been since preseason. The Dolphins had Kalaheo in trouble early before losing at the Walter Wong Classic.
With Honokaa transfer Micah Dunhour (6-foot-3), David Daniels and German transfer Simon Koch, AOP has rebounding and enough scoring to compete.
The Spartans, meanwhile, have great potential under coach Scotty Prather. They’re young and tall, led by Michael Palmer.
X factor: Seabury Hall hasn’t traveled to Oahu in some time, and the early tip-off means it’ll be tough for loyal fans to get to the game in time. AOP will have plenty of hometown support, which could make the difference.
Kailua vs. St. Joseph, Kalani/Earl Holmer Gym, 7 p.m.
On paper: Kailua (19-11, 12-4 OIA White) finished second to Roosevelt in the playoffs. St. Joseph (22-6, 11-2 BIIF) won its league’s D-II crown and has been in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 all year. The Cardinals are currently ranked No. 7.
The skinny: This is another great matchup pitting teams with similar tendencies. St. Joe has a terrific center in 6-5 sophomore Thomas Fairman. Kailua has 6-3 widebody Jordan DeCorte. Fairman is a smooth shooter in the paint, but is a deft passer, too. DeCorte, an all-state offensive lineman, is a high-percentage scorer on the low post who often gets off to a strong start.
St. Joe point guard Will Scanlan-Leite is efficient and smart, never predictable in the system of his father, coach Harry Scanlan-Leite. Kailua floor general Corey Lau, another football standout, is one of the fastest athletes in the state. Lau is tough to the basket and has 3-point range, but often defers and distributes. Kailua might look to him as a finisher in close games; when Lau deferred in the playoffs, the Surfriders lost big leads and lost games.
Sebastian Ohara-Saft and Jacob Andrade are effective wings for the Cardinals. Saft-Ohara is a 6-1 slasher with a good mid-range pull-up jumper, but is savvy enough to draw fouls. Andrade, who is 5-8, is a streak shooter to the extreme. He scored 44 in his season high game this season, but sometimes scores in single figures. When the Cardinals need a big shot in the clutch, Andrade won’t hesitate to take on the task.
Kailua has streaky shooters, too. Rhys Nakakura specializes on long-range bombs, while 6-3 Luis Valenzuela is another 3-point gunner.
X factor: The Surfriders have sage guidance from longtime coach Tim Harrison, but have yet to provide him with a steady scoring threat at the high post. That void means that late in games, DeCorte is often double-teamed down low while his perimeter targets are covered.
Paul Honda, Star-Bulletin