They were and they are, still, the giant slayers.
Damien’s unbeaten run came to an end on Tuesday night with a 65-58 loss to nemesis St. Francis. The resume speaks for itself. Wins over St. Francis, Kalaheo, Punahou, Kailua. A 9-1 overall record. Not bad for a Division II program.
Running the table in preseason would have been a simple, if enormously difficult, antidote to the naysayers who have knocked the Monarchs for declaring as a D-II team back in June. They were four months removed from losing in the ILH and D-II finals to St. Francis, a team that made the move up to D-I this season.
Damien has won the Pete Smith Classic and its inaugural Damien Invitational. After playing today in the St. Francis Holiday Hoops Classic third-place game, the Monarchs will have some down time until the ILH D-II opener against Hanalani on Tuesday. Then they enter the Punahou Invitational the day after that.
Coach Alvin Stephenson chatted with Hawaii Prep World.
HPW: The Cinderella dream, the underdog knocking off the giants, and then losing in the tournament semifinal round against St. Francis. How’s the team taking it?
Stephenson: They’re all right. It’s a little disappointing.
HPW: The results speak for themselves. A loss to St. Francis after four Top 10 wins is still an amazing start.
Stephenson: Anytime we lose to St. Francis, it doesn’t matter what the record is, it’s always a battle to the end. It’s been like that since eI’ve been here. High-intensity game, physical. I have a lot of respect for them. The last time we played them we felt like we accomplished something, and we had something to prove. Last night, they were the ones who took it to us in the first half. Pretty much knocked us out and we had to come out fighting.
HPW: It would’ve been quite a conversation if Damien had gone unbeaten through preseason and beaten every Division I and Top 10 team on the schedule. But St. Francis really played well, especially in the first half, and your team showed its heart in the second half.
Stephenson: For a coach, it’s nerve-wracking to see two teams. It was a great loss for us. It’s the first time people are talking about us positively and negatively. All that little pressure may have gotten to them a little bit, but I just look at is as it humbles us and makes us hungrier.
We’ll know who we really are today when we play Lahainaluna. I’m expecting a lot of growth, that’s what I love about them. They’ll fight until the end. We just can’t be down 30 at halftime.
HPW: It’s not easy to duplicate the intensity and energy that St. Francis brought at practice.
Stephenson: We’re learning on the fly. With this group, giving them more game time experience is better than trying to pound it into them in practice. States is a whole new ball game. Everyone’s backs are against the wall. The final exam will be states. So far, we’ve been responding. I’m surprised, too, at our record. My goal was to be above .500 in preseason. We have 17 (preseason) games, so I was hoping for around 12-5 or 10-7. Being 9-1 I think is awesome, but it’s a great opportunity for us to keep facing challenges like this.
HPW: What’s interesting, too, is the shot lock at the St. Francis tourney. If there’s no shot clock, the individual matchups take on much more weight.
Stephenson: That pressure of the shot clock, if you’re not used to it, you kind of speed up. The first night, we had a couple of violations, but it helped us learn that we can play fast.
It is what it is, they were the better team last night.
HPW: A lot of your reserves were part of the rally, a nice plus even in defeat.
Stephenson: We have some pretty good kids. Everybody knows their role. They’re happy with each other. Last night, we played everybody. At first, there might’ve been a fatigue factor. Things weren’t clicking, so everybody got a shot at it until we got back in a groove second half. When you play a rival, out doesn’t matter what you thought.
HPW: So you have an ILH D-II opener with Hanalani (Dec. 18), and then the next it’s the Punahou tourney. When D-II season is in gear, will it be a conservative, slower tempo with a short rotation and scores in the 30s and 40s? Or will it be uptempo and everyone getting lots of action? I ask because when your team pressed against St. Francis, it was effective.
Stephenson: ILH D-II teams and players play out of their minds when they play us. Hanalani had a guy falling out of bounds making 3s (last year). I try to keep it balanced. Tournament time, I think about the long haul of a tournament. Different teams pose different things. If our guards are strong, everyone’s excited, lots of energy on day one, then by third day, no legs. It’s the will and the mind, so we try to balance it out so we have a lot of energy on the third day.