Dan Hale isn’t necessarily trying to raise the Saint Louis Crusaders to new heights.
The newly-hired basketball coach recalls an era when the men of Kalaepohaku were among the best on the hardwood.
“My memory of Saint Louis is they were a powerhouse in basketball. Mark Rodrigues, Brad Pineau, a bunch of guys,” Hale said on Monday afternoon by phone from Virginia.
Rodrigues was a standout point guard who went on to lead the floor at Chaminade, beating No. 1 Virginia in, arguably, the greatest sports upset of all time. Pineau, a 6-foot-10 center, went on to play at Hawaii.
“Mark’s senior year, they had a kid, 6-8, Mark Bishop. They were huge,” said Hale, who played at Punahou on three state-title teams. “But it’s been on and off ever since. They’re committed to basically get that program back to the way it was.”
The way it was is less remembered today. In recent seasons, Saint Louis has shuttled through several prominent coaches without that original success. Keith Spencer. Alan Silva. Sol Batoon. The Crusaders have been competitive, but in the ILH, the bar is much higher than other leagues in boys basketball.
Since leading Punahou to a state-tournament runner-up finish in 2007, and then a state title in ’08, Hale departed in ’09. His family moved to Virginia to be closer to his dad. A decade later, since guiding Marshall High School to three district championships, his parents are moving back to the islands, and so is the rest of his family.
At Saint Louis, where the football program is a three-time defending state champion in Open Division, and the baseball team is a Top 3 squad and perennial state-title contender, there are only so many bodies available.
Saint Louis won the inaugural state championship in 1957 under Walter Wong, and captured four more state titles until ’68. That includes the ’66 team that featured Jim Nicholson, who had a 60-point, 20-dunk game.
The Crusaders last won a state crown in ’86 under Kaipo Spencer, and reached the final in ’95, 2000 and ’03. Between 1995 and 2003, in the midst of the football program’s initial dynastic run under Cal Lee, the basketball team reached the semifinal round of the state tourney seven times.
Hale talked about the challenges and expectations at Saint Louis with Hawaii Prep World.
HPW: Athleticism, coaching, those have been key when Saint Louis has been successful.
Hale: Darryl (Gabriel) had a good team in the ‘90s. They were competitive and went all the way to the state championship.
HPW: Yep, with Junior Wong at point guard.
Hale: In these past years, for whatever reason, it hasn’t come together and that’s the challenge of it. Bringing it all together. When I went to Marshall, they had not won a district championship in 50 years. So when I went there, it was a big challenge, trying to change the mind-set and kind of turn it. By the third year, we won the first championship. And in my nine years, we’ve won three, and back to back (in ’18 and ’19). You have to build from the bottom. The guys there have to leave their mark and impress the younger guys coming up. That’s kind of the way I’m approaching this, trying to get that kind of thing going.
HPW: One thing I noticed that was different with Coach Batoon was the program had more teams playing in year-round youth leagues as Kalaepohaku. Eighth-grade and sixth-grade teams. That was different. It’s always a challenge at Saint Louis, where so many athletes play football or baseball.
Hale: You’ve got to develop them young. One thing different in Northern Virginia, you do have a lot of year-round basketball guys, but we had had some football and lacrosse guys. Lacrosse is a great sport for basketball guys. We had a kid who’s pitching in college now.
HPW: Can it be done now in a league that is dominated by basketball-first or basketball-only athletes?
Hale: At Punahou, I had Manti (Te‘o), Dalton (Hilliard), Robby (Toma), Kameron (Steinhoff). That was a real nice group, too. Mixing in the basketball guys with the football guys. I like the multi-sport athletes. The only thing I’ve had to preach to them is you’ve got to get a ball in your hand and get shots up at least on the weekends in the offseason. From a mental standpoint, it’s no problem.
HPW: Saint Louis was 7-0 in preseason and then lost a ton of close games in the ILH.
Hale: In the ILH, you’re going to have to skills in these grinding games. I had 6-11, 6-8, 6-6, 6-3 here and we get full-court pressed the entire game. You break it by passing.
HPW: In ’09, the time was right for you and your family to move up to Virginia. What’s different now?
Hale: My youngest is in high school now, so all my older kids graduated from Marshall. My parents are moving back (to Hawaii). I have four kids and one is graduating this year from Marshall, and she’s going to UH. My son is finishing up at UH right now. My oldest daughter is moving back, modeling in Asia. So everyone’s moving back. The timing is right when this thing came up. It’s kind of come fast and furious, but it’s the right time. And I always knew we would move back.
HPW: Will the year-round training in basketball continue or increase?
Hale: I’ll be the (new) gym coming up, so we talked about expanding on the tournaments and training, all kinds of year-round stuff. We want to utilize the (new) gym for all of that.
HPW: What will be your day job situation? Are you still teaching?
Hale: Yes, I’m a teacher at Marshall. I’ll be teaching at Saint Louis. You’ve got to survive. I think the potential of what the mission is up there, there’s lots of opportunity.
HPW: What makes Saint Louis unique? Can they bring in more basketball-oriented athletes and help them with financial aid?
Hale: They have a winning tradition in football and kids who grow up playing, and that’s a great opportunity to try and build it back to where it was, back in the day. A lot of people don’t remember those days. I’m getting a little long in the tooth, but I can still remember those days. They’re doing well in baseball, too. Being a part of that is pretty exciting. As far as the tuition and all that, that’s out of my wheelhouse.
HPW: If Saint Louis played in another league, making the state tournament would be less difficult. Kamehameha will return most of its roster. Damien is a Top 3 team despite being mostly underclassmen. Maryknoll will reload with their 6-10 center, Sage Tolentino. ‘Iolani and Punahou will reload. Mid-Pacific just lost Ryan Hirata, but they have a chance to build on what he started. Even with three berths, it’s a gauntlet in the ILH.
Hale: The ILH, I’ve been around it long enough to know it comes down to execution. You’ve got to be able to execute in those key moments. You’ve got to build a system like ‘Iolani had under Doc (Mugiishi), any successful system, you have that. In my days, we had three different coaches and we won three championships. The reason is we had a system in place that you can use. Those games can come down to it, and you’ve got to be ready for the presses and all that. Up here, there are so many more schools that you’re playing, you can’t just hone in and prepare for one kind of basketball. Hawaii, everybody knows what everybody runs and you prep for that. It’s a different animal.
HPW: One of the beautiful things about basketball is you don’t need dozens of great players. If you have four substantial players in each grade, that’s plenty. Fill the rest with role players, and every player understanding what it takes.
Hale: That’s the key, finding guys that want to buy in, willing to make sacrifices to do that. There’s no judgment on the guys that don’t buy in, that’s a part of it. That’s the part of getting some basketball players, some guys that can fill in.
HPW: Can it be done at Saint Louis?
Hale: We won our football championship with football guys, and the year before it was basketball guys (in a state runner-up finish). No knock on those guys, but it can be done. You’ve got to build that kind.
HPW: When do you return?
Hale: We don’t graduate until the second week of June. I’m contractually obligated to be here until then.
HPW: All these years at Marshall, what will you miss the most?
Hale: I’ll miss Marshall tremendously. The people didn’t know me from Adam. They said do the best you can. When we started expanding and doing different things, they were always so supportive. That’s the only way to do it. You have to always be providing opportunities. I’ll miss a lot of the friendships, the coaches. It’s amazing. One of my players was invited to the Capital Classic, the oldest all-star game. He’s going against Joe Girard, who set the all-time New York scoring record, scoring 50 points per game. He’s going to Syracuse. The national team against the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia). The basketball up here is tremendous and it’s really fun to coach. But I always tell them, Hawaii, we can hang. We don’t have the numbers, but we have the athletes.
HPW: Do you still lace up the shoes and get on the court with the kids?
Hale: I do lace them up. One of our kids, he’s going into the Navy, had offers from all over, but wanted to go in the Navy. We bang around a little bit. He’s 6-8. He’s the best, statistically, that Marshall has ever had. He’s going to play in the Academy. We’ve got a bunch of kids in D-II, D-III, JUCO. We’re a public school, but the private schools, those guys are so good. I saw Markelle Fultz play how many times. A bunch of guys, go down the list.
HPW: Did you get to coach in the offseason, too?
Hale: Coaching AAU. I coached it when my son was playing. We went everywhere from Orlando to Spooky Nook in Pennsylvania, a huge East Coast tournament, all the New York teams. It’s kind of like every week. Up here, there’s huge businesses for private training. There’s just so many people here.
HPW: Have you started to build a coaching staff?
Hale: Not yet. I’m kind of figuring out some stuff. Reaching out to a few people, trying to see who wants to get involved. I’m kind of an all-in guy, so I’m seeing who wants to jump in. I like to have a couple of guys.
HPW: Punahou and ‘Iolani, Maryknoll, they’re year-round. You’re going to need guys who are committed to that.
Hale: My thing has always been what are you working on today. Passing? Shooting? Give them a chance to play. There’s no substitute to playing and competing in games year round.
HPW: It’s the same as always. The players who put in the everyday work succeed. Kevin Durant’s youth coach believed in that and hated pickup games. KD still limits his pickup games to 10 percent of his basketball time in the offseason.
Hale: My assistant coach Kevin is from PG County right outside of DC. He coached at a HS there and saw KD coming up as a kid, before Montrose and Oak Hill. Lots of NBA types come out of there and so many of them are exactly that, some good organized clubs from that area. Take these potential kids and work them.
HPW: Kameron Ng was the Star-Advertiser’s All-State player of the year. In the offseason, he gets his 500 shots in the morning, and 500 more at night. Relentless.
Hale: At our school, we’ve got one of those shooting machines and you can get up 500 shots pretty quick. They ain’t cheap. My guys get up 500 shots in a half-hour. After the first five minutes, they’re gassed, but that’s what it takes. You know you’re in shape when you can do that for half an hour. That’s what it takes, building a culture.