Maryknoll, Kahuku to meet on final day of OIA-ILH Challenge
For Maryknoll boys basketball coach Kelly Grant, the past is the past.
The Spartans have turned the page on last season's Division I state championship — the school's first in 35 years — and are approaching this season with a clean slate.
"It's not fair for me to continually talk about last year's team, so we've moved on," said Grant, who earned All-Hawaii Coach of the Year honors after guiding his alma mater to a 30-2 overall record last year, including a 13-1 mark in league play.
"I mean, they already know. Eleven of these guys played on that team last year, so they know what went on and from winning a state championship they know that they're the hunted now; we were the hunters before," Grant said.
Maryknoll is off to a 6-0 start to the preseason, most recently coming off of a 42-26 win over Kapolei Monday.
The Spartans have rolled through the opposition so far with an average margin of victory of 21.5 points; their closest result was a 14-point win over Kaiser.
"It's going good, we're taking it slow," Grant said. "Of course, we couldn't go as fast as we could go last year with our senior-heavy team last year, so we're being patient and putting in all our packages and things like that, but I think they're responding well; they have high basketball IQs."
The competition will get tougher with this week's OIA-ILH Challenge at Moanalua. The eight-team non-bracketed tournament gets underway Thursday, continues on Friday and wraps up Saturday, with four games on each day. Maryknoll will play Kalaheo, defending OIA champion Moanalua and 2017 state champion Kahuku, in that order.
Grant said the first order of business is staying healthy.
"I mean, nobody wants to get injured and I know the OIA teams have something to prove, we have something to prove, but when it's all said and done it's all about trying to get ready for our regular-season opener," said Grant, whose team will take part in The Classic at Damien, one of Southern California's premier preseason tournaments, later this month.
"The kids are excited to play some of the top OIA teams this week. They want to see how they fare against these top teams and it's also going to help us prepare for our trip," Grant said.
Maryknoll saw two All-Hawaii First Team selections graduate last spring in Makoto Kamata and Marcus Tobin — its two top scorers last season.
Among those expected to step into larger roles this season for the Spartans are seniors Niko Robben (15.2 ppg this preseason) and Liko Soares (7.6 ppg), along with sophomore Sage Tolentino (12.8 ppg).
Robben has moved from point guard to small forward to take over Kamata's spot.
"So the dynamic has changed because of that," Grant said.
Tolentino has grown three inches since last season and now stands 7-feet tall.
OIA-ILH Challenge All games at Moanalua HS
Thursday, Dec. 5 Mid-Pacific vs. Leilehua, 4 p.m. Maryknoll vs. Kalaheo, 5:30 p.m. Saint Louis vs. Kahuku, 7 p.m. Iolani vs. Moanalua, 8:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 6 Leilehua vs. Iolani, 4 p.m. Kahuku vs. Mid-Pacific, 5:30 p.m. Kalaheo vs. Saint Louis, 7 p.m. Moanalua vs. Maryknoll, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7 Mid-Pacific vs. Moanalua, 2 p.m. Iolani vs. Kalaheo, 3:30 p.m. Saint Louis vs. Leilehua, 5 p.m. Maryknoll vs. Kahuku, 6:30 p.m.
"He was a role player last year, now he's a major contributor," Grant said. "He's put on weight, (but) he's still thin and still gets bumped around, but his frame is strong. He's just gotta put on weight, but that's going to come."
Soares is a 6-foot-2 center who goes from part-time starter a year ago to full-time starter this season. In the backcourt, junior Noah Furtado will take over at shooting guard after serving as sixth man last year and sophomore Parker Grant — the coach's son — slots in as the starting point guard.
"And then we have a slew of shooters," Grant noted. "In my 30 years of coaching, this is probably the most shooters I've had on one team."
Grant is also high on his newcomers this season, who helped Maryknoll win the ILH's junior varsity title last year and the intermediate crown the season before.
"We have a good bunch of kids coming up," Grant said.
While the Spartans have a half-dozen games under their belt heading into the OIA-ILH Challenge, their opponent Saturday — Kahuku — is just getting started.
"This is the first week because all of our football guys had their (state championship) game last weekend," Red Raiders coach Brandyn Akana said. "But it's same old, that's how it is at Kahuku. That's kind of expected, but this year it's really late because of those bye weeks (during football season), so we're just getting them back and getting them back into basketball shape."
Kahuku is coming off a 19-11 record last year, including a 9-6 mark in league play. It finished fourth in the OIA and was bounced in the first round of the state tournament by ILH runner-up Punahou.
Akana's squad got its first taste of game action this season with Tuesday night's 56-38 home win over Campbell. Leading the way was senior transfer Oscar Cheng, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound big man who played at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco last year.
Cheng was a perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field and finished with 21 points and four rebounds against the Sabers.
"Oscar is great post player with great post moves," Akana said. "He's long and he's just active and athletic and so, of course, we love that; I've always done well with big guys, so if we get him in the right position, definitely he'll be a force in the middle."
Akana drew some comparisons between Cheng and former All-Hawaii Player of the Year Tolu Smith, who helped the Red Raiders reach the 2018 state final in his only season with the program.
"He's quite similar to Tolu. Tolu maybe was a little more athletic, but I think Oscar is stronger down there and he has a good feel for the basket, but Tolu was really good," Akana said. "I think Tolu was really agile and he could do a little more offensively, but both them defensively, they're both just long and big and they block shots and they rebound."
Cheng's younger brother, Desmond, is a 6-foot-5 sophomore on the JV team, who Akana expects to pull up to varsity at some point this season.
"He's really talented," Akana said of the younger Cheng. "He's been the leading scorer on the JV team, so we've been watching him closely, but I wanted to see him play before we brought him to varsity, but I could see us doing it maybe midseason or for sure at the end of the year."
Lokana Enos, the top returning scorer from last year (8.8 ppg), can play both forward positions alongside Oscar Cheng. The other returning starter is junior point guard Shon Reid (4.2 ppg), while the newcomers to the starting five are sophomores Daniel Kaio and Amari Westmoreland-Vendiola.
"I'm excited because we got all of our guards back from last year," Akana said. "(Reid) started for us as a sophomore last year and he's going to be one of our leaders. Last year he played a lot of minutes but there was kind of a steep learning curve, this year he's a lot more comfortable so it's good to have him back."
Westmoreland-Vendiola spent all of last season on the JV team, while Kaio was called up mid-season.
"(Kaio), he's our shooting guard. We pulled him up as a freshman and he played major minutes last year and then Amari is playing really well for us right now," Akana said.
Westmoreland-Vendiola shot 3-of-6 on 3-pointers and finished with 15 points in Tuesday's win over Campbell. Akana said that while he was able to empty his bench, his team's execution left much to be desired.
"I thought it was sloppy, but it was our first game so some things looked good and some things we need to improve on. A win is a win, but this weekend we play three ILH teams and those guys play hard, so it should be a fun weekend for this early in the season and we're happy to be playing those guys," said Akana, whose team will take on Saint Louis Thursday and Mid-Pacific Friday before the showdown with the Spartans Saturday.
"We're just excited. Because we had to wait for our football guys, we finally got a roster together and got all the bodies on the court, so I think it'll be a great experience. That's always a great tournament, so it should be fun," Akana said.
Tip-off for the Kahuku-Maryknoll game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.