Q&A: Durant on St. Francis’ ascent to tourney final

St. Francis coach Ron Durant has the Saints in the championship game of their own tournament against No. 1 Punahou. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

A year ago, it was St. Francis that rebuilt that unique template of what a giant slayer could be.

In the 2017-18 season, Saints were unbeaten against all competition through preseason with the exception of two close losses to mighty Punahou, which went on to capture the Division I state title, and one to Kamehameha.

St. Francis went on to capture its second D-II state championship in a row. The boys basketball squad made the long-awaited move up to D-I, roughly two years after Punahou coach Darren Matsuda had predicted. The injury bug hit, however, and has yet to go away. The state’s leading scorer, Kameron Ng, remains sidelined with a high-ankle sprain. Guard Jett Tanuvasa is playing on a sore ankle. Center Makua Marumoto is hobbled, too.

So when this week began with the Saints signed up for tournaments at Saint Louis (Walter Wong Invitational) and its St. Francis Holiday Hoops Classic, the timing probably couldn’t have been worse.

Instead, necessity has truly been the mother of invention. After a wild 75-72 overtime win over Waiakea on Monday night at St. Francis, the Saints went to McCabe Gym on Tuesday with their top JV players. The blend of JV and varsity hoopsters was enough to get past a solid Kaiser squad, 59-40. Then it was a bus ride back to Manoa for a showdown with unbeaten Damien. The Saints roared to a 33-9 lead late in the second quarter, saw the lead diminish to 10 in the second half, and hung on for a 65-58 win, handing Damien its first loss after nine wins.

No. 6 St. Francis (7-4) will meet No. 1 Punahou on Wednesday night in the tournament’s title game.

Saints coach Ron Durant chatted with Hawaii Prep World.

HPW: So your team gets back from the Walter Wong Invitational, starts playing its second game in a three-hour span, and can’t seem to miss from 3-point range.

Durant: I honestly feel that one of the things I’ve preached is shot selection. The shots we were taking were good shots, on balance, not forced or off balance. We have a shot-selection chart, 7 is a shot in your range and we had a lot of 7s. We’re getting better control of our tempo, stuff we’ve been working on as a team. It’s been up and down.

HPW: Chase Akana rained in two corner 3s to push the lead to 10-2 early. That what your team needed.

Durant: Chase has been putting in extra time. We open up the gym at 6 in the morning and he’s been working on his shot, so his confidence is picking up.

HPW: When more guys are scoring, that takes a lot of pressure off Kordel Ng. He was still creating for everyone, but that’s a big load off his shoulders. His passing is so precise.

Durant: When we got people stepping up, Nalu (Kanalulu) opened up hot, we were balanced. That’s the type of team effort we’ve got to have so Kordel doesn’t have to work so hard. Now, after losing Kam and Jett’s hobbled, we thought we’d have Bubba Akana and he hasn’t returned from his ankle injury. Makua (Marumoto) has missed the past few games (ankle).

HPW: Do you look back now and wish your team wasn’t in two tournaments?

Durant: We get more game experience that we can’t get at practice. Our JV players really helped us in the Saint Louis tournament. We got to rest our guys a little bit.

HPW: Chayse hit big shots, and then Titus Liu hit two 3s in the second quarter and you’re up 39-12 at halftime. Did you warn your guys that a run was coming.

Durant: We knew the press was coming. We drew things up and we just didn’t execute. They got within 10 and Jett’s playing on a bum ankle so it’s affecting his play, and not having Kameron affects us, of course.

HPW: But they got used to the pressure and Kordel was instrumental with Jett breaking the press.

Durant: Jett hit some big 3s. That might have been his first double-figure game of the season. It was a perfect storm everybody stepped up and did their role. Tonight we expect that press on steroids with Punahou.

HPW: It’ll be interesting to see how your bigs do against Punahou. Ope Laloulu helped a lot against Damien.

Durant: Ope brings a whole new dimension to us. But we’ve got to get the ball to him. We’ll watch some film and try to make some adjustments and hopefully solve that, get them out of that press.

HPW: Beating an undefeated team, a team St. Francis lost to two weeks ago, a team that was No. 1 last week, does that ever serve as motivational fuel?

Durant: We honestly didn’t even talk about it. We didn’t have to talk about it. It’s Damien, Its’s always been a battle with them the last five years since I’ve been there. I didn’t have to give any rah-rah speech. There was nothing new or special.

HPW: Will there be more fatigue going back and forth between two tournaments?

Durant: We have a bye today. We play tomorrow against Kahuku (at the Walter Wong Invitational).

HPW: I saw Kam on the bench in his uniform with the walking cast on his ankle. It looked like he was ready to play if everyone fouled out.

Durant: Kam’s been rehabbing. I see him in the weight room. He’s there, but we don’t want to rush him. He’s always there for moral support, talking to the boys, giving them reminders. The team looks up to him so it’s been nice. He’s been more of a leader.


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