Q&A: Moanalua hoops coach Byron Mello

Moanalua surging higher on roller-coaster season

A year ago, Byron Mello’s Moanalua team lost its first six games in nonconference play. All tough competition, all close losses. He was far from satisfied, but in the end, things balanced out and Moanalua finished with a solid year.

This time, expectations were higher. Moanalua had its struggles, then began to peak late in the regular season. A late run evened their OIA East mark at 5-5, and then Na Menehune qualified for the state tourney.

The chaos of the OIA playoffs was unique. Kalaheo, which won the championship, ended up paired with Moanalua in a sub-bracket. Moanalua, which beat Kalaheo 81-68 in the regular season and finished fifth in the OIA, edged the Mustangs on Wednesday in the state quarterfinals, 52-50.

Moanalua, the .500 team from the OIA East, is playing closer to its potential than at any time this season. Na Menehune (18-12 overall including nonconference games) meet Punahou in the semifinal round of the Snapple/HHSAA Boys Basketball State Championships at Stan Sheriff Center.

Moanalua, which won its opening-round game at Konawaena 62-52 on Monday, would love to run the floor with Punahou. Caleb Casinas, Geremy Robinson and the rest of the roster are built to go up and down the court. After an inter-island road trip, two games and school every morning, the big test will be one of endurance as much as hoops.

Coach Mello chatted with Hawaii Prep World today, recovering after a long, memorable Wednesday.

HPW: The final seconds against Kalaheo were dramatic. One screenshot of the TV game screen showed 1 second on the clock. Another screenshot has the scoreboard in the background with :00.

Mello: I did not think the shot was good and I was hoping the refs would see the same. I got a little nervous when they huddled. I was ecstatic when they waved it off. I’m glad there was visual evidence when they made the right call.

HPW: Punahou. It’s another good matchup for Moanalua in a sense. They’d rather run than play power ball inside. They went to a small lineup against McKinley. What do you think of a potential matchup between your center, (6-5 sophomore) DiAeris McRaven and Punahou’s Duke Clemens.

Mello: I like DiAeris vs. Clemens. He has not shied away from anyone, even Tolu Smith. He has become relentless on the offensive boards especially which I am really pleased with.

HPW: Is it fair to consider Moanalua the Cinderella team of the tourney?

Mello: I don’t think we are a Cinderella team. I think we are a talented team that took time to gel and trust each other. We were a “new” team at the end of November. New kids on the team and we did not play summer league together. Lots of trust issues to work out in what is a short —
ridiculously short in my opinion — preseason. That being said, I thought that we were a year away from being where we are so I’m stoked about that.

HPW: Is there anything that is different about this team from all the other teams you’ve coached?

Mello: They are strong minded and a challenge to coach at times. They are extremely resilient and fearless and that has played a big role in our push down the stretch.


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