It was a nice little basketball game at Ching Gymnasium on Wednesday night.
A big Saint Louis lead, a Maryknoll comeback, and a close ending with the Crusaders holding off the Spartans 44-42.
Expect more of the same in this ILH season that has just begun. The (figurative) snow has melted and the fun, competitive and exciting holiday hoops tournaments are done. Santy Claus is gone until next year.
This is the real deal, now, folks, where all the leagues get down to business to battle each other and work toward making it to that ultimate place, the state tournament. Hawaii’s big dance.
A couple of guys who have been there before were prowling the sidelines Wednesday. Maryknoll coach Kelly Grant won a title with Kaimuki in 2007, and Saint Louis’ Keith Spencer was a regular participant with his Leilehua squads and, as a starter for ‘Iolani, was part of the 1983 state championship team.
Both coaches, of course, had tons of teaching points ready to go for when they return to practice Thursday.
Grant, in particular, has plenty to go over with his young squad, many who were not around when Maryknoll finished second and then third at the state tournament the past two seasons. He ticked off many problem areas for the 13-member team that comprises five freshmen and three sophomores. Among them:
>> Too many turnovers
>> Not enough knowledge of what to do in certain situations
>> Not enough pregame preparation
The 35 turnovers, he said, are the most by any team he’s coached at any level. Sure, Saint Louis played tenacious defense, especially in the first half.
“But they’ve got to value possessions,” Grant said.
How much more pointed can you be? The most important part of basketball, really, when you get right down to it, is your team holding on to the ball, which leads to working it around to getting good shots.
With so many youngsters on the team, you could tell the Spartans didn’t have that polished decision-making ability that comes with experience.
But with two 6-foot-5 freaks — freshman Brian Washington, a shot-blocking maniac, and sophomore Justice Sueing Jr., an athletic, smooth scorer and defender — it might get easy from time to time to gloss over the other things that aren’t going right.
Add in a tough defensive customer in Saige Pulu, a 6-foot freshman, and you’ve got a solid frontcourt.
Preparation is something Grant takes seriously, and he feels his kids will “get it” in the long run.
During a postgame interview Wednesday, he took time to point out what he considers top-notch preparation. To illustrate his point, he mentioned the time he walked by a locker room before a state tournament game and saw Punahou forward DeForrest Buckner deep in thought.
“He was stone-faced and I’ll never forget it,” Grant said. “It’s not about coming to the game and joking around to your friends. It’s really preparing for games. Three hours before, you’re thinking about nothing else, that’s what I want to see. DeForrest Buckner (who is a defensive lineman for Oregon and about to play in the national championship football game against Ohio State on Monday) might be in the NFL next year.”
Spencer had his teaching points, too: free-throw shooting and aggressiveness.
“There’s no way the game should have been that close,” he said even before being asked a question. “Our free-throw shooting was poor.”
The Crusaders were 7-for-17 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Spencer also lamented the fact that his team did not remain aggressive after going ahead by 15 points in the first half.
“We were complacent and that was disappointing,” he said. “It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it.”
Jimmy Nunuha III carried the Crusaders with 13 points and he also spearheaded what was, for the most part and especially in the first half, a strong defensive effort.
Nunuha said he thinks the Crusaders need to relax more at the line, and thought it was a good sign that the team pulled through despite the adversarial situation in the second half, when Maryknoll pulled to within one point twice.
“They (the Spartans) were coming down and making shots, but we came back down and hit ours,” he said.
It probably won’t be the only “ugly win” in the ILH this year, and it will certainly be interesting to see how these two teams develop.
Will they listen to their coaches and get better? Likely.
We’ll look forward to seeing just how much, and that’s part of the beauty of sports.