Recap: Thursday hoop highlights

Konawaena's Cherilyn Molina drove into the key with Miramonte's Clair Steele following during the first period of the Iolani Classic held on Thursday evening. Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.
Konawaena’s Cherilyn Molina drove into the key with Miramonte’s Clair Steele following during the first period of the Iolani Classic held on Thursday evening. Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Cindy Ellen Russell.

It’s Friday morning, which means the busy week is winding down for most humans.

For hoopaholics, however, things are just getting a little more interesting. What have we learned after one day of the ‘Iolani Classic and OIA-ILH Challenge?

>> Konawaena is unflappable. The Wildcats are one of the smallest teams in the Classic, yet nothing fazes them. They dissected Miramonte’s three-quarter press and halfcourt traps with regularity. I didn’t expect a 44-point first half by the Wildcats, and they did it while attempting just four 3-point shots (and making one).

They did it, as they always do, with a patient motion offense, precise bounce passes, the hockey-assist kind of ball sharing that negated the height advantage of the visitors from Orinda. It’s not just one or two elite ballhandlers who make Konawaena’s press breaker and halfcourt offense excellent. The entire team understands passing and patience. It takes an old roundball soul to understand those elements, and that’s what the Wildcats did on Thursday night. Knowledge equals victory.

>> Chanelle Molina’s willpower. In years past, Lia Galdeira imposed her will with a physicality and explosiveness that matched and surpassed that of her foes. I think back to the loss to Brea Olinda (Calif.) and how she took hit after hit, sent flying into the walls of ‘Iolani’s gym until she had a black eye after a loss. Then, a year later, she and the Wildcats imposed their will on the same team en route to the title.

Molina isn’t quite as physical, but her will is equally assertive. Her ability to score off the dribble at the rim or mid-range is unmatched locally. But she doesn’t settle. Time after time, she waited for the right moment, drawing second defenders and finding open teammates for easy layups. It was masterful. Her 27/6/7 line said a lot, but her efficiency (60 percent from the field) and trust are fun to watch. Big fun.

>> The truth. Honesty Grayson and the Riverdale Baptist (Md.) Crusaders are the favorite to win the tourney, but that 8-for-19 stat at the free-throw line is their one bugaboo. Maybe it’s just a glitch. Konawaena will find out when the teams match up in the 6:30 p.m. semifinal today.

>> The savvy of Sabrina Ionescu. She could actually average these kinds of numbers. It’s a fast-paced game that the Miramonte Matadors play, and her ability to do it all is at the hub of this spinning wheel. After 39 points, 17 rebounds, six steals, five dimes, three swats and six 3-pointers, Ionescu might be a tad bit fatigued when they face Shenzen (China) in a 3 p.m. game today. Sure, it’s not what the Mats (as their uniforms read) wanted, but I wish I could see her play again today.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but her ability to score from anywhere on the floor reminds me of the late Gavin Smith, who I saw play at Blaisdell Arena (a.k.a. the HIC) when I was a kid. Smith dropped 41 in a game as I kept circling ‘2’ after ‘2’ in my game program scorecard. He could’ve scored 50 if he hadn’t been pulled with 4 minutes left.

It was another Smith, Katie, who I compared Ionescu to last night. Either Smith is comparable, really, in terms of long-range shooting, toughness inside, hustling for everything in sight.

>> Saint Gelacio, forgive me. It was Saint, a pesky, quick guard, who turned a steal into a big layup with 29 seconds left for Kamehameha in a 48-43 win over Leilehua at the OIA-ILH Challenge. I asked a few people after the game who made the play, but apparently, they were thinking of someone else (Jayden Zarriello) on a different steal.

My apologies to Saint. That was a heck of a play. It turned a one-point Kamehameha lead into a three-point cushion, which led to a rushed 3-point try by the Mules that missed. Defense is going to be a calling card for the Warriors — yes, I know coach Greg Tacon says it’s too early to know his team’s identity — and that’s good news for Kamehameha fans.

>> Good Govs, bad Govs. Even when they’re not so good — allowing easy layups in transition, turning the ball over, taking ill-advised shots — the Governors of Farrington are tough to beat. They’ve got just enough savvy and b-ball IQ, especially with key role players like Bryce Tatupu-Leopoldo, to make up for height disadvantages and those mental errors.

Imagine how good they’ll be, as they showed in the final minutes of last night’s 66-57 win over ‘Iolani, once they consistently shore up those boo-boos. Coach Allan Silva has the patience of a veteran coach and the positivity of a guru, and his style of coaching has continued to attract players near and far.

Jake Smith is taller and bigger than he was a year ago at Kamehameha. His pull-up jumper isn’t as fine-tuned, but his 3-point shot and proficiency from the foul line are elite. Three treys in the third quarter kept his team in the battle against ‘Iolani. Down the stretch, he was outstanding at the foul line.

Ranan Mamiya was unstoppable off the dribble when Farrington made its big push to open the lead in the final minutes. He’s got explosiveness, though it’s hard to say whether he’s lost anything since hurting his knee during the state football tournament.

What the Govs lack in size and long-range shooting compared to last season’s team, they can make up for with their ability to attack the rim.

‘Iolani stayed in man defense, and for a change, Farrington rarely (if at all) ran its high-low, crossing post game. The lanes were open and victory was theirs. Interesting what we get to see in preseason.

>> Mule tough. Coach Pat Wetzel is getting just about everything he can out of Leilehua. They’re being patient offensively, running when the opportunity is there, and with a 6-6 center and athletic defenders, there will not be any easy wins over the green and gold.

And yet… this is a team of athletes more than pure hoopsters, for the most part. Missed layups. Missed connections. Simple passes becoming turnovers. Their 48-43 loss to another young team, Kamehameha, had a lot to do with the Warriors’ resilience and mental toughness. But the other side of it is that the Mules would have a sharper, crisper offense if Wetzel got his wish and they spent more time working out as a team in the summer.

That’s the hope of most coaches, no doubt. But it is what it is, and Wetzel and his coaching staff have gotten this group to play solid team basketball so far. As for the missed layups, as June Jones once said about dropped passes, the less said about it, the better. Or words to that effect.

>> Pahoa Power Co. The Daggers made a bold statement last week by winning the Keaau/Waiakea Tournament. On Thursday night, the Division II squad from one of the state’s smallest schools upended Hilo 45-38 in the first round of the St. Joseph Cardinal Classic. Tolby Saito, who scored 30 points in last week’s title-game win over Kaiser, pumped in 20 against Hilo.

Is Pahoa a Top 10 team statewide — regardless of classification? My pupule ballot would say yes. No polls just yet, but we’re getting close.

>> And finally… at the Baldwin Invitational on Maui, Kalaheo edged Maryknoll by one point. The Mustangs played with an injured Kupaa Harrison (ankle). This is the matchup I was hoping to see last week at McKinley’s tournament. Harrison hurt his ankle during that tourney and was hoping to be healthy enough for this game, wasn’t 100 percent. He was key to Kalaheo’s win, particularly after Maryknoll’s 6-5 sophomore, Justice Sueing Jr., gpt in foul trouble during the fourth quarter.

(Note: This corrects the previous info I had about Harrison not playing. Mahalo!)

Maryknoll is vastly talented, but very young, too. At this early vantage point — the boys started two weeks after the girls — we’re getting to see where the best boys squads shake out.


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