Q&A: Coach Kelly Grant on Maryknoll’s title, Sellitto coaching tree

Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant cut the last string to release the net after winning the ILH title on Monday. He followed with a state crown. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

The day after, it was more of the grind for Maryknoll boys basketball coach Kelly Grant.

Or more so, for his son Payton. Eighteen hours after Maryknoll won its first state championship in 35 years, Grant was at a batting cage as his son got some swings in. Baseball season is in session.

For one unforgettable night, Grant and Damien coach Alvin Stephenson aligned in the coaching tree — a small, but powerful universe — of legendary Tony Sellitto. Grant played for Sellitto at Maryknoll. Stephenson did the same while at HPU.

Grant chatted about the crown, the comparisons to that 1984 Maryknoll team that took it all, and the process of following his convictions.

HPW: What would a comparison be like, even though these are two different eras?

Grant: There’s some distinct similarities. Marcus Tobin was like Tony Turner. They played similar styles. Tony lived and died on that short baseline jump shot, similar to how Marcus loves that shot. Nikko Robben is similar to Mike Among, a combo point guard with Ben Valle. Nikko was our primary ball hander, (both) big guys who can see over the defense, good ball handlers and can take control of a game. I don’t think there’s too much similarly to Kui (Ostrowski) and Makoto (Kamata). You could compare Kui to Kalai (Akaka), but Kui was big.

HPW: Dominic Ostrowski was the state tournament’s most outstanding player (in ’84). Kui was all-tourney.

Grant: Dominic had a really good tournament, strong around the rim and he could shoot the perimeter shot.

HPW: Was the ’84 team more physical?

Grant: That ’84 team didn’t have Liko Soares. He just neutralizes. I always wanted to have someone like Liko. When I was at Kaimuki, I had Desmond Tautofi. He played JV and we brought him up and play against everyone’s big men. I felt more comfortable later in (this) season with Marcus guarding the perimeter. I watched a lot of game film and this year, guys couldn’t get around him as much. At the start of the season, whenever we had the two of those guys on the floor we went to 2-3 zone defense because of the shooters in the ILH.

(Note: Kaimuki won the state tourney under Grant in 2007.)

HPW: What was different about the ’84 squad?

Grant: We were so confident in our 1-1-2-1, kind of like how Kentucky runs their zone defense. A little bit of Syracuse, but more like Kentucky when they had their big guys. It was stifling. Alvin learns a lot of defenses from Sellitto, so Sellitto is a proud man last night. Two of his guys won the state tournament.

HPW: So the ’84 team was cohesive defensively. Defensive chemistry.

Grant: We used the 1-1-2-1 the whole time, and a 2-2-1 three-quarter. Those were our two defenses. If an opposing team didn’t try to score on the press, then we dropped into the zone.

HPW: Your team this season was so effective with tough man defense.

Grant: This year’s team, we just smother teams with our length in our man to man. All seven or eight guys I rotated had a full understanding of how to play the different scenarios that opposing offenses throw on us. The kids really understood that when they made a mistake on defense they paid for it and they knew why.

HPW: How long after that did Coach Sellitto leave Maryknoll?

Grant: The ’88 team lost to University. They had Kenny Harrison, James Williams. Maryknoll had Jimmy Lactaoen, Pio Sagapolutele.

HPW: That’s when he went to Hawaii Pacific. You played for him, right?

Grant: No, but I coached under him. My knees were too bad. It helped me out to learn the process of a coach. I was his defensive coordinator. I ran all the man stuff for him. He wanted me to come up with three or four, five drills every day for the kids to learn. I did that for two years until I graduated.

HPW: And now you’re in baseball mode. Did you get to soak it all in yet?

Grant: A lot of guys that played, the legends that came out of Maryknoll, they got my phone number and were texting me late last night and early this morning. Malcolm Lee. The Ostrowskis. Ken Fletcher

HPW: Your athletic director and Maryknoll teammate, Ben Valle.

Grant: Ben is so proud, so happy. We’re going to have a special assembly tomorrow (Monday). I’m not one to do big speeches with these guys, Makoto and Marcus didn’t reference the 84 number on the banner. When I talk about legacy, (now) they can be referenced with the greatest players to come out of Maryknoll. They really embraced that. This is one of the top two or three teams to come out of Maryknoll. We were so complete, everything a coach would need, ballhandling, shooting, defense, height, IQ, being able to withstand pressure.

HPW: And versatile. How versatile was the ’84 team?

Grant: The ’84 team had Garrett Gabriel (as a sophomore), Danny Padello. He was a Noah Furtado, a role player. He was a tremendous football player. A big comparison is the ’84 team was senior-heavy too. Our junior team in ’83 lost to Saint Louis to qualify for state and that hit us really hard. That was the determining factor for how hard we worked to get ready for the season.

HPW: I’m guessing Coach Sellitto was at the game last night.

Grant: Sellitto was there and left at the end of third quarter to watch the rest on TV. He met with us at Tropics with us coaches. He was so proud. As close to a complete game as a coach would want. Limited turnovers. Controlling possession, controlling the clock. Shooting 50 percent from the field. I know a lot of teams like to press, but it’s high risk, high reward. You just take yourself out of games.


  1. SpartanAlum February 25, 2019 10:55 am

    This a proud moment for all Maryknoll alumni. The Selitto legacy runs deep at Maryknoll and has impacted all sports at Maryknoll not just basketball. Now the cycle is complete and a new generation of state champions now have a taste of sweetness. Hopefully one of them will come back and coach their Alma Mater after Grant retires.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiprepworld@staradvertiser.com.