Straight outta the DMV: St. Paul VI loves defense, winning and malasadas

St. Paul VI coach Glenn Farello and junior DeShawn Harris-Smith are in the final of the ‘Iolani Classic after a 58-43 win over Central Catholic (Ore.) on Tuesday. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser.

Defense is still cool.

Really. Though social media is filled with ankle-breakers and outlandish dunks, the best of the best still dig down and play great team defense. When No. 1 Sierra Canyon and No. 20 St. Paul VI (Va.) square up on Wednesday for the ‘Iolani Classic title, there will be toe-to-toe defensive prowess on both ends of the floor.

For three games, each of the powerhouse squads has played the kind of man-to-man defense that old-schoolers relish. The Panthers of St. Paul VI didn’t have a scorer with more than 14 points in a 58-43 semifinal win over Central Catholic (Ore.). What they had up and down the lineup was commitment to great defense.

It starts with coach Glenn Farello, a man who rarely rants on the sideline.

“Coach wants us to try our best and just win,” junior Blake Neal said.

“And play defense,” said 6-foot-6 freshman Jaquon Womack, who had two monster dunks off Central Catholic turnovers during a late first-half run.

Defense is practically religion when it comes to Panther basketball.

“My father was a football/basketball coach, Frank Farello. He instilled that in me. You want to be a champion, you’ve got to be able to play defense. He was old school, he was definitely old school. No zone. No, no. I’ll throw in some zone because I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” coach Farello said.

On the court, it is all business for St. Paul VI. The campus is 40 miles from Washington, D.C. Players, coaches, families consider Chantilly, Va., a part of the DMV, where basketball tradition and rivalries are steep and deep.

The Panthers opened the Classic with a 66-42 win over Hawaii powerhouse — and two-time defending state champion — Maryknoll on Saturday. On Monday, their quarterfinal game with Leilehua was called off for health and safety protocols.

That’s when the team discovered malasadas. The team loved the local pastry so much, they returned to Leonard’s Bakery for another box full on Tuesday. By the end of their game, the malasadas were cold and damp rather than fresh, warm and slightly crispy on the surface. The Panthers still devoured all of them in two minutes.

“We had them the other day fresh. They were delicious. So we stopped and got them for the guys,” Farello said.

Central Catholic was eliminated from title contention on Monday by powerful Pembroke Pines (Fla.), but welcomed the chance to play in the semifinals when West Linn (Ore.) pulled out on Tuesday morning. The Rams filled in to face St. Paul VI and played their hearts out, rallying from a 16-4 deficit to within 19-17. They were still close, 30-25, before the Panthers’ defense and explosiveness opened the lead to 11 by halftime.

“From a defensive standpoint, the pressure, the way we play it’s always been a staple of who we are,” Farello said. “It’s always been a staple of who we are and a foundation of our program.”

Sierra Canyon’s busload of offensive talent is no surprise, but defense is the Trailblazers main course. They live and breathe it. Nobody gets consistently open looks against their man defense, if ever. Ramel Lloyd, who scored 20 points in their 51-48 semifinal win over Pembroke Pines, had two swats during another steady defensive performance. So interchangeable, so competitive.

The shot clock in play at the Classic hasn’t given the two finalist teams any reason to sit back in a zone, which would be the easy move. The Panthers and Trailblazers go deep when it comes to reserves, keeping legs fresh for the most part.

While social media aggregators draw overly bright or bleak pictures based on offensive numbers, tomorrow’s championship-game teams have one thing in common: everyone plays defense.

“If you don’t play defense, you sit,” Neal said.

Farello remembers his father’s non-verbal communication to his players.

“My father, it’s really funny. I played for him when I was younger. He’d actually look at me and just do this, and that means once. Don’t do it again or you’re coming out. Next time you’re coming out,” he said. “Nope, he was not a yeller or screamer. He puts his (index) finger up and lets us know, you did it once, if you do it again, you’re coming out.”

Now, the Panthers are one win away from making big headlines. Sierra Canyon. It doesn’t get bigger than that. The Panthers plan to play their style of basketball, which could be a step quicker than the taller Trailblazers.

“The tempo in which we played in the first half, when we established our lead, we got our pace going and I was really happy with that,” Farello said. “In the second quarter, we lost our offensive rhythm, our defense picked up and got us some baskets there, stretched out the lead.”

From the disappearing malasadas to the constant joking, the Panthers seem to be enjoying their stay in Hawaii. Even with an unprecedented pile of cancelled games, mostly in the consolation side of the bracket. Even in a state in the midst of a spike in COVID-19 numbers. In the soft bubble at ‘Iolani, there is a sense of freedom and peace. Peace of mind.

Farello had no opinion about West Linn, the team that was scheduled to play the Panthers on Tuesday. St. Paul VI had conversations in recent weeks about the trip to Hawaii. In the end, they made what they believe is the right choice. They put their trust in the ‘Iolani community and co-athletic director Eddie Maruyama.

“I really respect the rules that have been established. I think they’ve done an amazing job. Eddie and all his team has done an amazing job of providing us a great opportunity,” Farello said. “It’s really a smart plan they’ve had all along and we’re excited to play in the championship game. I respect how it is. It’s really difficult decisions that are involved and they’ve done an amazing job of handling everything.”

For a time, Pembroke Pines had mighty Sierra Canyon on the ropes. When the Trailblazers roared back from a seven-point deficit (34-27), it was with high-pressure defense.

“Their defense is absolutely amazing. I’ve been really impressed watching them on film and, of course, live the last few days,” Farello said. “We’re in for a really challenging game tomorrow.”

Saturday, Dec. 18
‘Iolani Classic
Central Catholic (Ore.) 80, Kalaheo 36
Pembroke Pines (Fla.) 88, Kailua 33
West Linn (Ore.) 102, Damien 36
St. Paul VI (Va.) 66, Maryknoll 42
‘Iolani 72, Waialua 17
Sierra Canyon (Calif.) 63, Punahou 39

Kaimuki 62, @ Radford 59
> Kaim: Rashawn Fritz-Betiru 36 (7 treys), Malu Cleveland 16. Rad: Tyler Grover 18, Hawkins Souffrant 10, Christopher Love 10.
Kohala 63, @ Hilo 56
Kohala 53, Lahainaluna 36, Hilo gym
Kaiser 61, Hawaii Baptist 50
Pearl City @ Maryknoll

Monday, Dec. 20
‘Iolani Classic
Kalaheo vs. Maryknoll, cancelled
Kailua vs. Damien, cancelled
Punahou 73, Waialua 32
Leilehua vs. St. Paul VI (Va.), cancelled
Pembroke Pines (Fla.) 75, Central Catholic (Ore.) 50
Sierra Canyon (Calif.) 66, ‘Iolani 49
West Linn (Ore.) 100, Baldwin 39

Kaiser @ Marykonll, 6 pm (JV/V)

Tuesday, Dec. 21
‘Iolani Classic
1 p.m. ‘Iolani vs. Central Catholic (Ore.), cancelled
Sierra Canyon (Calif.) 51, Pembroke Pines (Fla.) 48, semifinal
4:30 p.m. St. Paul IV (Va,) vs. West Linn (Ore.), semifinal
> West Linn withdraws from tournament
St. Paul IV (Va.) 58, Central Catholic (Ore.) 43, semifinal
6:30 p.m. ‘Iolani vs. Baldwin, exhibition, cancelled

@ Kamehameha 71, Aiea 41
Mid-Pacific 52, @ Radford 29
> MPI: Jacob Brown 13.

Wednesday, Dec. 22
‘Iolani Classic
Noon TBD, cancelled
2:00 p.m. Pembroke Pines (Fla.) vs. Central Catholic (Ore.)
2:00 p.m. ‘Iolani vs. Central Catholic (Ore.)
4 p.m. Sierra Canyon (Calif.) vs. St. Paul VI (Va.) championship game


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