When Kalaheo beat Farrington 102-94 in an OIA boys basketball game more than three decades ago, it was about talent and transition and depth.
No one knew then that it would remain the highest-scoring game by a losing team for years on end. But those two teams had the depth to keep the scoreboard operator in workout mode. On paper, a major ILH D-II matchup between high scoring St. Francis and Hawaii Baptist would seem to be a candidate to wreck that epic Kalaheo-Farrington score total.
The two teams meet on Friday night with the Eagles of HBA (16-6, 2-1) in need of a win to reset the chase for the ILH’s regular-season title and an automatic state-tournament berth. St. Francis, ranked No. 3 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10, is powering along with a 4-0 mark in league play (19-3 overall) after a 69-54 win over Damien on Wednesday.
In reality, there may not be enough scoring depth for both teams. St. Francis has explosive scorer Kameron Ng (26 points per game), a junior guard with crafty ways of getting buckets in the paint, drawing contact to get 10-plus free throws in most games, as well as 3-point range. The Saints have capable scorers in Kordel Ng, arguably the fastest guard and certainly the backcourt player with the best vertical; Manoa Kuali‘i-Moe is skilled passer and scorer; Bryce Nishida is a streaky, dangerous gunner; Jett Tanuvasa can hit the open 3, but is especially tough in the paint when he drives and take contact.
The Saints also have a 3-point threat in low-post scorer Boris Vukovic, and there’s plenty of depth for coach Ron Durant when it comes to putting athletic defenders on the court. But this isn’t a lineup that matches Kalaheo or Farrington of that era in the 1980s.
St. Francis hasn’t held back in most games. Their biggest scoring nights: 76 against Kaimuki, 86 on Waianae, 85 versus Waipahu, 80 on Kamehameha II, 77 against Saint Louis II, 76 on McKinley, 83 against Kealakehe, 72 on Campbell, 83 on University and 87 at Le Jardin. Those are mostly D-II foes.
What separates St. Francis from most D-II powerhouses — the Saints are defending D-II state champions – is that they have competed strongly against the best teams in D-I this season. No. 2 Kamehameha had to play a great game to win 71-66 back on Dec. 1 in the Surfrider Holiday Classic. Punahou pulled out a 74-66 win in the St. Francis Holiday tourney final on Dec. 21. The teams played at a slightly slower tempo on Dec. 30, with Punahou winning 59-52 in the Punahou Invitational final.
The Saints are fully capable of spreading the floor and killing clock, but their DNA is about offensive attacking. They don’t need a shot clock.
HBA has a major scoring machine in Micah Mitchell, who scored 44 points in a loss to Sequoia (Calif.) two weeks ago and has a career high of 47. Mitchell, like Kameron Ng, can hit the long-range 3, but also has a variety of moves when he attacks the rim. Like Ng, he doesn’t settle for tough runners. Instead, he’ll get his advantage, jump stop near the rim, and take the hit from his defender or the help defender to get two free throws.
Early in preseason, the Eagles had their share of kinks to work out. They still don’t defend necessarily well, but they’re one of the smaller teams even in D-II. Coach George Weeks has stayed true to his philosophy of running the floor, spacing it with his 3-point shooters and going deep in his bench to keep the pressure on opponents.
“For us, even in a free-lance, there’s still a lot of structure and rules to what we’re doing,” Weeks said.
The Eagles use a variety of ball movement, including plenty of handoffs. Sometimes it resembles what the San Antonio Spurs have done for two decades. Sometimes, it’s just a major stress for defenders.
“It’s basically just a ball screen. The only difference is the screener has the ball. It’s like football, you have a little play-action going on. I like to think outside the box a little bit, so that’s an opportunity to do different things. That’s all it is,” Weeks said. “Every team that we play is bigger than us, so we just try to execute the same things every time. This year, it’s much more team oriented. Last year, not everyone was at the same level we needed them at. This year, we’re reliant on a real team concept. We need everyone to contribute, not just in points, but in everything. We need to space the floor as much as we can. The more we space, the more area the defense has to cover. We’re just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got and see what happens.”
Weeks and his staff have relished the chance to see what their team can do against some of the best teams available locally and from the mainland.
“We look great against ourselves at practice. We can’t simulate the size or the strength or the speed or the length of these teams we’ve played. It’s just a chance to get better and compete,” he said. “I told the kids whether we’re 15-5 or 5-15, it makes no difference because all these (preseason) games are basically meaningless. It’s like (John) Calipari from Kentucky says, there’s winning and learning. Either way, we’re learning and I think we’ve learned a lot in this preseason. We just want to get out there every day and compete.”
As a team, HBA has hit 189 3-point shots, which is astounding for a team that’s good, but not extremely accurate as shooters. The exceptions would be Mitchell and Max Weimken. Mitchell, a 6-foot-1 senior, averages more than 22 points per game and has drained 73 treys already this season, including five in an upset win over South Anchorage (Alaska). His final 3 was a buzzer-beater from the left corner. The better teams, like No. 1 Punahou, have paid close attention to Mitchell, who had just seven points and no trifectas against the Buffanblu.
Weimken is a 6-foot-3 junior who has blossomed with a scoring average above 18 points per game. He is a good complement as a stretch 5 to Mitchell, but he also doesn’t settle for standing on the arc. In his highest-scoring game of the season so far, 36 against Nanakuli, he made just one 3 and took 14 free throws. Still, he is comfortable and accurate from NBA range.
“If they can prove it to me in practice, then absolutely. I don’t have any problem with these guys letting it fly. For them, it’s a fun way to play. It’s an earned opportunity,” Weeks said. “These guys are so dedicated in the offseason. Max put up a lot of shots in the summer. Micah is so committed. He did CrossFit. So smart academically and he’s tough.”
Weeks isn’t necessarily married to this system. In the decade since arriving at HBA, he has modified his system depending on personnel. Everyone on campus knows, however, that given enough shooters, ballhandlers and depth, he prefers to run. And his Eagles know it’s not just about launching and admiring their 3-point shots.
Justin Ishida and Cole Galicinao are averaging double figures, and after that, it’s still up in the air about where HBA could possibly add more scoring. At 67 points per game, that’s not necessarily record level, but consider that most of HBA’s opponents in preseason were Division I teams. Their biggest outputs: 97 against Honokaa (D-I), 84 on Hana, 76 on Radford, 79 vs. Hanalani, 82 on Saint Louis II, 74 on Punahou II and 76 against Damien.
That 81-76 loss to Damien, which lost to St. Francis on Wednesday, means that there’s basically no room left for another loss. Falling two games behind St. Francis would make it improbable that the Eagles would catch the Saints. Claiming one of the league’s two state berths would depend on 1) regular-season finish (Damien currently has the head-to-head tiebreaker) and 2) how HBA does in the playoffs.
Nearly two weeks ago, HBA’s girls were in a similar situation, hosting an unbeaten St. Francis team. HBA went to a delay game in the third quarter and expanded a four-point lead to five points. St. Francis’ girls rallied for an overtime win that day. So far this season, Weeks has shown no desire to slow games down. If they come up short, which hasn’t been often, it’ll be with every bullet fired. Empty barrels, for sure.
For spectators, it would be astounding to see the Saints run and gun, for Kameron Ng to catch fire, and HBA respond equally with hot shooting and more running. Unlike ILH D-I, where there’s been more transition offense in recent season yet games will slow to a crawl with so much on the line, ILH D-II has been fastbreaking fun for fans.
HBA has been a lab of sorts for Weeks and his staff, from his years as the girls coach at Kalani to the boys at HBA.
“We’re a little bit of LMU. We’re a little bit of Grinnell. We’re a little bit of Princeton. We’re of the Golden State Warriors. I had this epiphany, we’re at a point where we’ve taken all these experiences that have worked for the last 20 years where we’ve created our own system,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out our strengths and play to our strengths. We’re measuring ourselves not just by wins and losses, but more the amount of effort that we put out on the court. We hold ourselves to a standard of play and if we are successful in maintaining that standard, then more likely than not the scoreboard will reflect kindly on us.”
When these teams met last year, St. Francis won both times 76-60 and 59-50. If one or both teams race toward the century mark on Friday, at least they have the weekend to recharge their batteries.