The eye test before tip-off was incomplete.
The McKinley Tigers, a group of fine, young gentlemen, don’t have a lot of height, girth or swagger. But after the tip, it was all business for coach Duane Omori’s team. Even this early, scarcely one week into preseason play, the Tigers are moving the ball, spacing the court, battling on the boards against bigger teams.
McKinley took it on the chin in a wipeout loss to defending D-II state champion St. Francis on Saturday. But on Monday night, they stood toe to toe with Nanakuli, pulled away with a string of fastbreak layups, and closed the game with discipline. Except for that strange 17-foot brick (name withheld) with roughly 20 seconds left and a seven-point lead.
Omori, ever the poised general, didn’t flinch. He kept watching. He had a word or two, it appeared from this vantage point across the gym. But like their head coach, the Tigers, with senior Kyle Moraga hitting foul shots down the stretch, remained calm and sealed their first win of the season, 52-43, at the Pete Smith Classic.
So the win-loss column looks like this for a promising squad:
L St. Francis
Tuesday, Nov. 21, 3:30 p.m.: vs. Kaimuki
“It’s always nice to have the first win of the season. We’ve got a lot of new, inexperienced kids,” Omori said, noting that four or five of the seniors are first-year varsity players. “We have six returnees, but only Kyle started.”
Caleb Corpening led the Tigers with 12 points and Moraga, the lone holdover from the Dan Villejo/Huthifah Abdel Jawad/Macjun Otarra years. In 2015, the Tigers went 11-4 in league play and reached the state tournament, losing to Baldwin 43-40 in the opening round. (Note: Villejo now plays at Northeastern Junior College (Colo.), where he shot 50 percent from the field, 91 percent from the line and averaged 4.5 points per game as a freshman. Abdel Jawad now plays at Mesa College (Calif.), where he shot 36 percent from 3-point range and averaged 6.1 points per game as as a freshman.)
“Most importantly, we ran our transition offense,” Omori added. “We ran the lanes correctly, moving the ball from one side to the other, knowing who our shooters are. Trying to play at a quicker pace, but being disciplined.”
The Tigers are making the most of their skill set with a lot of drive-and-kick action.
“Caleb is aggressive to the basket. He finishes strong,” Omori said. “Kyle needs to run our team and be our floor general. He needs to score, but also make other players better, too.”