Kapolei at Mililani sounded like a game without a lot of pizazz.
I was still interested, though, when the assignment came my way. How does Kapolei respond after a week of outstanding basketball? Mililani might not be at powerhouse form this year, but they’ll be scrappy, and they’ll be playing at home. Stranger things have happened.
But to supplement my diet of hoops, I squeezed in a quarterfinal game at the Punahou Invitational. St. Francis against the mighty Cherokee of Sequoia (Redwood City, Calif.). Their 6-foot-6 center, Ziggy Lauese, is basically a man among children. He’s big as an NFL tight end. Stronger than anyone in the tournament, my guess. How would the Saints counter him?
It turned out to be a sensational game. Kameron Ng kept attacking the rim. So did Kordell Ng. So did Bryce Nishida. The entire team was willing to attack the basket against a much taller, bigger team. It was toughness and hoops IQ combined like I’ve rarely seen at the high school level. The result? Even though officials permitted arm-bar style, on-ball defense, it was consistent both ways and provided a contrast to the tight calls in the paint. Kameron Ng poured in 31 points, cooly sinking clutch free throws (15-for-18) to keep the Saints ahead in what ultimately turned into a stunning 66-61 win.
Lauese? He had two fouls in the first quarter and sat the rest of the half. A quick foul to start the third quarter and he sat until the fourth. In extremely limited playing time, he had 16 points and nine rebounds. I’m guessing he played 14 minutes max.
If you haven’t seen Lauese play in person, you have Friday and Saturday to do so. He is a blend of Sam Johnson (Moanalua/UH), Hakeem Olajuwon (footwork, spin moves), Joel Embiid (excellent free-throw shooting) and DeMarcus Cousins (passing skills). And he’s got bounce. At 6-6, he’s not a giant by college or pro standards, but that hoppy bounce makes him unstoppable once the ball is at rim level, just playing volleyball with himself.
“He was unstoppable,” Ng said.
Sequoia did more than rally to within two points in the final minutes. They hit huge, clutch 3s. It felt very much like destiny was with the Cherokee. But Ng kept sinking foul shots. So did Nishida. Kordell Ng. Boris Vukovic. Even though the Saints basically tried to give the game away for a moment — ill-timed long corner 2, sloppy turnover trying to dribble through traffic on a fastbreak — all was forgiven. The effort defensively never waned even as Lauese brought an avalanche on St. Francis’ post defense.
It was, to be frank, probably the best game of the tournament that didn’t involve a buzzer-beating corner 3 by Micah Mitchell for the win. So here’s where I have no regrets even though I missed two great games in the span of two days. While St. Francis-Sequoia was enough to jolt the nerves, HBA edged South Anchorage on Wednesday night on a miracle at the corner of Wilder and Punahou. The Eagles weren’t even supposed to be in this tourney, but wait. Let me rephrase that, because obviously the Eagles were meant to be in this event. They were meant to splash a loose-ball-turned-into-a-lethal-weapon corner 3 as the clock in Hemmeter Fieldhouse struck :00.
I wasn’t there. I did get to see an amazing win by the very young Lady Raiders of Kahuku over No. 10 Kalani in a major OIA East girls hoops showdown on the North Shore.
But today, as I made the trek from Lower Manoa to Mililani, I was convinced that it was an OIA West girls game I was assigned to. When I arrived, it was actually a boys matchup. Woh. And Kapolei’s 70-38 win was supremely stoic. There was not much celebration at any time. This is now a team on a mission, (relatively) healthy and looking very much like a seasoned, senior-heavy state-championship contender. Not that coach Gary Ellison wants to hear something that far down the road. But it’s true. When Marquis Montgomery, Zoar Nedd and Julius Buelow are crashing the boards, that’s a mix of verticality, finesse and strength — at 6-4, 6-4 and 6-8 — that few teams can match.
Today, the ‘Canes were fundamental. Not perfect, but quite close. Mililani hung close for five minutes, and then they were witness, as all of us in the gym were, to the kind of basketball machine Kapolei is capable of being.
But that’s not the end of this. Across the island, on the other side of the Koolaus, something remarkable was happening at Kailua High School. In an 84-80 overtime win over Moanalua, Surfriders guard Everett Torres-Kahapea had a game. Not just a good game. He scored 42 points.
First of all, 84 points, with or without an extra period, is absolutely not Walter Marciel’s style. The longtime coach is far more comfortable with a defensive grind, and though he expressly wants this year’s squad to run (and press) more, just remember that when he was at Academy of the Pacific, it was all about maximizing each possession to get the highest-percentage shot possible. AOP was a powerhouse and almost all its scores were in the 30s and 40s.
In other words, Torres-Kahapea basically outscored a whole bunch of game totals by AOP and even some of Kailua’s games in recent seasons. Marciel isn’t married to one style of basketball. The fact that he has unleashed his junior guard is more than wise. It is transcendent. Future opponents may do all they can to slow the Surfriders’ tempo, but the possibility of Torres-Kahapea going warp speed from start to finish is something longtime Surfrider fans can relish the rest of this season.
Do I wish I’d been there at Kailua?
Does it matter? I saw a Mililani team that is more cohesive, has better ball movement, battles on the glass, fights for every loose ball. I saw a reason to believe. OK, at 0-2, the Trojans aren’t in position to run the table and claim an automatic first-round bye in the OIA D-I playoffs. But it wouldn’t shock me if they split their remaining eight games in league play. At 4-6, would they qualify for the playoffs?
Mililani coach Jason Tittle doesn’t think so, but it’s possible. He is believing more than ever. Why not do better than split those eight games.
“No, not to disrespect any other teams,” he said. “Tonight’s effort was there. They played all the way through.”
Kapolei’s 40-21 halftime lead shrunk to 11.
“Our goal was to cut it to 10. Then the turnovers hurt us. You can’t do that with Kapolei’s speed,” Tittle said. “After the Moanalua game, they could’ve checked out, but they’re still giving great effort.”
The schedule is far from kind with Campbell, Kapolei and Leilehua to start out.
“I think we could win five (of the next eight). These first three games aren’t our whole season. A lot of teams peak at the right time,” he said. “McKinley’s been like that. Moanalua was like that last year. They knocked us out and knocked Kalaheo out.”
With that, Tittle sees the possibilities. So should the Trojans.
So should Kailua, Moanalua and every team playing this week. The season is still young. Greatness is there on the table for the teams that are willing to sacrifice and play with courage. Every day is a new day regardless of what happened the night before.
I just don’t know if we’ll see another career night like the one Torres-Kahapea had. (Side note: Lauese is fresh and hungry enough that we might see something incredible on Friday.) Here come the box-and-one defenses. The deny pressure. But the season is young. It’s been a long time since a player has harnessed his ability at Kailua quite the way this young Jedi has. George Puou, what would you say?