(A shorter version of this story ran in this morning’s Star-Advertiser.)
The parking lot at Maryknoll was busy, as usual, on Monday morning.
Cars pulling in, kids stepping off, rain falling to the pavement. Teacher and boys basketball coach Kelly Grant remembers a time when rain meant a wet asphalt court unless then-coach Tony Sellitto found a solution. Which was, in an era without cellphones and texting, easier said than done.
“Sellitto had connections, so on rainy days, he’d call and get us a gym,” Grant said as he watched students arrive on campus. “One year, we scrimmaged Pearl Washington’s AAU team in a hongwanji gym by Shriner’s (Hospital for Children).”
That team was the legendary New York Gauchos, and that guy, Washington, went on to a big-time college career at Syracuse. The Spartans are hoping to build some success of their own. The new gym is still sparkling, and the boys team is coming off one of its strongest seasons, ever.
For all hoops teams, ’tis the season. Practices officially got underway on Monday. Girls teams have already been busy with preseason tournaments at Farrington, Kaiser and McKinley.
At Maryknoll, talent is coming in and going out, more of the former than latter.
Justice Sueing Jr., son of former UH high-flying forward Justice Sueing Sr., is a 6-foot-5 transfer from Arizona.
“He can play the 1 through 4,” Grant said.
A transfer from Germany, 6-7 sophomore Lars Dracker, suffered a torn ACL before the season. He tore the ligament while attempting a dunk while shooting baskets. Player of the year Josh Burnett graduated. Promising sophomore-to-be Kamakana Winquist moved to Las Vegas. All-state guard Kaleb Gilmore transferred to Kalaheo.
“He was a hard worker, played hard and wanted to win,” Grant said. “We never had any problems. I wish him the best.”
Gilmore, who recently committed to his father George’s alma mater, Chaminade, isn’t the only new face at new place. Jaycob Smith left Kamehameha and is now at Farrington, coach Allan Silva confirmed. The Governors may also have Ranan Mamiya, the former St. Francis standout, though the talented senior injured a knee during the state football tournament. He played through the injury, but there’s no confirmation yet whether he’ll play hoops.
Kalaheo has an intriguing mix under coach Alika Smith that now includes Gilmore, who joins a squad that reached the OIA final last season despite a young roster. The Mustangs were skilled and thin a year ago, sparked by versatile Kupaa Harrison. They’ll play in the Hawaii Self-Storage Black and Gold Classic, which tips off on Dec. 4. Kalaheo is slated to play Kapolei, Campbell and University.
The Mustangs also have junior point guard Kekai Smith, Alika’s nephew, and Alika’s son, Jalen. The freshman has grown from about 5-9 to 6-5 in the past two years. The coach plans to use Jalen Smith as a post, though he grew up as a wing and has sharpshooting skills from the arc.
“We just took him to the doctor, and he said Jalen could grow to 6-8 or 6-9,” Smith said.
Kalaheo’s annual Pete Smith Classic will expand from eight to 16 teams this winter. The tourney begins on Dec. 16 and includes defending champion Konawaena, Farrington, Punahou, Damien, Campbell, Leilehua, Mililani and three Canadian teams. Two of the teams from up north are very good, Smith said, adding that he wasn’t expecting this big a field.
“So many teams had interest, I said, screw it,” he said.
The grand poobah of tournaments remains the ‘Iolani Classic, which features national power Oak Hill (Va.).
“They are loaded,’ Classic founder Glenn Young said. “They said this might be their best team.”
St. John Bosco (Calif.), Miller Grove (Ga.) and Second Baptist (Texas) are also strong contenders, Young added. The tournament, widely considered the best in the nation, begins on Dec. 16.
Some teams are busy just trying to make the transition back to the court. Division II state football champion ‘Iolani completed its long season with a 31-14 win over Lahainaluna on Friday. The Raiders, who are defending boys basketball state champions — in D-I — open their preseason slate in the same Alegre tourney on Dec. 4 against Mililani.
Kamu Borden (6-3, 241) is coming to the court straight off the gridiron. The senior is a football commit to UH.
“We’ll see what he looks like out of football,” Raiders coach Dean Shimamoto said. “He tweaked his hamstring and didn’t play all summer for us. It’s going take some time for him to get into basketball shape again. Size-wise, we’re pretty good with Hugh (Hogland) and him.”
Hogland, who emerged as a defensive force as a 6-7 freshman, is about 6-8 now.
“He shed all his baby fat, like 30 pounds. He’s more athletic. He’s in really good shape. He works really hard. We’ll see when we practice on Monday,” Shimamoto said on Sunday.
Punahou also completed its football season on Friday, reaching the state final and losing to Mililani in an epic 53-45 battle. Three days later — Monday, to be exact — the likes of wide receiver Kanawai Noa (6-1, 180), cornerbacks Dayson Watanabe and Randon Oda and linebacker Ronley Lakalaka were expected to be on the hardwood. Coach Darren Matsuda has just a handful of practices with his two-sport guys before the Buffanblu take on Leilehua in eight days — Dec. 3 — at the James Alegre Invitational.
Center Semisi Uluave (6-6, 315) opted to bypass basketball as a senior. He will focus on football, where he is one of the state’s top offensive linemen. He has a visit to UCLA planned in December.