Saturday Evening Post: Govs stymie Spartans

Maryknoll's Saige Pulu (23) and Brian Washington (44) fought for a rebound with Farrington's Tua Unutoa on Saturday. Cindy Ellen Russell / Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Maryknoll’s Saige Pulu (23) and Brian Washington (44) fought for a rebound with Farrington’s Tua Unutoa on Saturday. Cindy Ellen Russell / Honolulu Star-Advertiser

All is well in the post for Farrington, even though they don’t have the bigs they had a year ago (Jacob McEnroe) or two years ago (mammoth Mason Semisi). No, all they have is one of the craftiest, strongest and toughest 5-foot-10 ballers you will see this season in boys basketball: Tua Unutoa.

From start to finish, he battled Maryknoll’s uber-talented and long Brian Washington, a 6-4 freshman with incredibly long arms and quick feet. Unutoa’s numbers were solid, not spectacular: 12 points, seven boards. But without him — he fouled out in the fourth quarter — the Governors are not the same team. They struggled to close out a 47-44 win over the young Spartans. Maryknoll played well in spurts, but they’re young and sometimes the heat of the moment — officials’ calls, missed shots, made shots — can get them up and down. That’s something every young team goes through, yet this group is talented enough to pull off anything THIS season. It wouldn’t shock me.

I just hope Justice Sueing Jr. gets through the season intact. He drives hard on nearly every play, takes a lot of hits and gets is knees and ankle wrapped in ice after games. Today wasn’t too bad as far as contact. The 6-5 sophomore shot 7-for-11 from the floor and only went to the line once, hitting both shots — which can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. He shot 91 percent from the line at the McKinley tourney (20-for-22).

For all their athleticism and mental durability, Farrington just doesn’t have much height. In fact, they’re basically a 6-foot and under squad this season, which is why Coach Allan Silva has pretty much (temporarily) junked his traditional high-low post pattern offense in favor of an open, spread floor to give slashers like Ranan Mamiya and Keola Kealoha a chance to penetrate.

What nobody outside of Kalihi knew was that Jake Smith — the other transfer besides Kealoha and Mamiya — would be a 3-point machine as a senior. Gone is the pull-up J in favor of his sweet stroke from the arc and on out to NBA range. He rained in four treys during a pivotal third quarter. There was nothing Maryknoll could do this time. Next time, I imagine they’ll close those gaps and force Smith to put the ball on the floor.

But right now, for all their shortcomings (no pun intended), Farrington actually has nice pieces working together, and defensively, they cover and hit the boards on a level that’s actually close to last year’s team. That’s saying a lot, I know, since they had four stellar senior guards and a heck of an athlete playing a rime level in McEnroe.

I do believe that the Govs tired out recently, and that they just couldn’t keep up with Punahou in the rematch between the two powerhouses. But they look fresh again.

It’s that time of preseason when teams that rely heavily on speed and transition points might be hitting the proverbial wall. Roosevelt. McKinley. Both have struggled somewhat this week, still competing hard, but the mistimed passes and sloppy ballhandling are all part of what a fatigued team does. Tournament season can do that to a lot of squads.

The beauty of this week, as I think I mentioned yesterday, is that tournaments are broken up by a Sunday. It’s like we get two days of pretty good action, then a breather (halftime), and then two great days of semifinals and finals games. I’m really looking forward to a healthy Kalaheo squad. And the new-look Kahuku Red Raiders, who were already going to be fun to watch regardless of new players. Samuta Avea was a thrill to watch as a 6-1 eighth-grade guard going coast-to-coast on the fastbreak. Now that he’s 6-5, look out.

Ni hao, Huipu. The squad from Zhejiang, China — impressed again today in a 60-47 win over Saint Louis. They’re as physical and forceful a team as any I’ve seen from China, using a strong 6-8 center and a 6-9 forward who skies for blocks and fastbreak dunks with ease. I chatted with them via an interpreter after the game, but the guys seemed quiet. The interpreter says they’re shy.

When I told them that I’d be blogging about them (again) here on this site, it took me about one second to realize that it’s meaningless to them. None of them, as far as I know, carries a smart phone and has internet access. Not that I’m writing in Mandarin, either. But this team from Central China has IT. Hard to explain, really, but when you see it, you know it. This team is deep enough that I still wonder what they could’ve done at the ‘Iolani Classic. Though McKinley and Saint Louis gave it their best effort, Huipu really could use a tough challenge.

Their length — the guards are all in the 5-10 to 6-2 range, and their backup posts are well above 6-3 — is something that gave McKinley and Saint Louis profound trouble. It was enough to make McKinley’s superb guard, Dan Villejo, lose his sense of comfort on Friday. On Saturday, it was Saint Louis’ 6-foot-1 guard, Jimmy Nunuha III, who struggled for a half against defensive pressure from players who were as tall and long as he was. Nunuha picked it up in the second half, finished with 15 points, and added three steals and two blocks.

It was clear and obvious on both nights: local teams need time to adjust to facing competition like that. You just don’t get the same passing lanes and shooting opportunities against athletic 6-8, 6-9 guys as you do against local teams. That’s why teams that play on the ground tend to have more consistent success. It’s a different game in many respects, but I still compare it to what Konawaena did two weeks ago in the girls ‘Iolani Classic. The Wildcats are athletic, yes, but they don’t have more than two players (not including Ihi Victor, who was injured at that time) who were really jumping as high (and higher) than nationally-ranked Riverdale Baptist (Md.) and Miramonte (Calif.).

The Wildcats won by being patient offensively, rather than losing patience and settling for mediocre, low-percentage shots like the local boys teams have done. Is this because teenaged boy athletes tend to be impatient in general compared to girls? I don’t have any data to prove this, but from what I’ve seen in the past few weeks, it just doesn’t seem to make sense for smaller teams to have a quick-trigger on tough shots when there’s no shot clock, no rush, no reason to panic. After all, that’s what a horrible shot is. It’s a panic move. It’s forgetting to trust your teammate, the game plan, your coaches.

Konawaena has trust and the commitment to practice and play year round. The rest of the state — with the exception of a few boys and girls teams like Punahou (both), Farrington (boys), Lahainaluna (girls) and maybe Kalaheo (lots of new players gelling) and a couple more — is further behind than they really should be. That’s how it looks in the final few days of this calendar year.


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