And yes, St. Francis basketball fans, you are celebrating. St. Francis sealed its state-tourney berth by clinching first place in the ILH Division II season at 12-0.
While University High got lots of attention by playing in some of the top D-I preseason tourneys, coach Ron Durant gradually built his Saints into a formidable force.
Freshman guard Kameron Ng and 6-foot-2 junior Supilani Mailei have led a balanced Saint attack through what has been a mesmerizing season to date. St. Francis, with former Radford girls coach and longtime club coach Kekoa Ng — Kameron’s dad — on staff, posted a string of impressive wins and even close losses to some D-I’s better programs.
L 61-68 Kalaheo
W 55-36 Campbell
L 51-57 Mid-Pacific
W 70-57 Baldwin
W 52-51 Lahainaluna
W 83-79 @ Maui
L 51-59 @ Lahainaluna
Of these foes, Kalaheo, MPI and Lahainaluna have spent time or still remain in the Top 10. The Saints also have a 61-59 win over Kaimuki, one of the top D-II teams in the OIA.
Wins over University (47-44, 39-36) have been big signature moments for Durant and the program. A win at Damien tonight would close the regular season perfectly. And at states, the eight-team, no-bye format has produced some amazing unpredictability in recent seasons. For the first time since Sol Batoon was coach — the former coach and athletic director guided them to a D-II state title in 2013 — the Saints are a major force in boys hoops.
Punahou coach Darren Matsuda has seen the Saints, and he thinks they’re ready for THE move. If the Saints win the state tourney, or even the ILH, Matsuda believes the time is right for the program to move up to ILH Division I.
“They’ve got a lot of size and a lot of good players,” Matsuda said after his team returned from a road game last week.
He’s right. The Saints’ roster includes five players at least 6-2. Only two of those bigs are seniors.
An ILH with St. Francis in D-I would increase the count to seven teams, which could possibly tilt the state-tourney berth ratio in the league’s favor. It could bring the league a coveted third state berth instead of the current two entries.
That’s a discussion for much later. Right now, the likes of Mailei, Ng, Noah Kurosawa, Micah Kalei, Boris Vukovic and the rest of the Saints are just marching in and marching on.