Kailua, Kahuku make it a Classic first round
Kahuku guard Jessiya Villa (4) keeps the ball away from Mount Vernon center Gregory Calixte (33). Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser
Some post-game thoughts now that we’re eight games into the ‘Iolani Prep Classic.
Dr. Phillips (Fla.) looked reasonably solid in a 59-38 win over Waiakea to start today’s games. They’re always solid, athletic and one of the better teams in America. Are they up to the level of Oak Hill (101-28 winner over Kapolei) or Findlay Prep (89-39 over Mid-Pacific)? That’s probably an unfair question. What’s more important is this: If the Panthers play their best game every night, can they win this tournament?
Waiakea, one of the stronger teams from the BIIF, was solid and competitive most of the way against a much taller team. Coach Paul Lee isn’t limping noticeably despite 1) a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the summer during an alumni tournament, and 2) overcoming a staph infection caused by the surgery to repair the Achilles.
Coach Lee is in good spirits and back to his usual self despite the danger to his health in recent months.
Kahuku, of course, was the story of the day with a 60-54 win over Mount Vernon (N.Y.). The Red Raiders were on the ropes at least twice, falling behind in the second quarter before zooming ahead with a 13-0 run, and again in the third quarter after falling behind 44-40. Coach Brandyn Akana is very sensitive about keeping everything fair for his guys.
“They’ve been working hard since the summer,” he said.
So how does any coach handle the influx of not one, not two, but three transfers who could easily form the best trio of players at any program in the state? Point guard Jessiya Villa was in breakout mode today, pounding the rock to his left against tough, tough on-ball pressure all game long, scoring on smooth runners, pull-up jumpers, and delivering the rock to teammates.
When’s the last time a Hawaii player scored 27 on Mount Vernon? On just 13 shot attempts?
Samuta Avea, still making a comeback from a dislocated ankle suffered last summer while playing club ball. He rehabbed for a long stretch without playing basketball. The recovery has been steady, but he’s not 100 percent. If you’ve seen him play at his best, even going back to his heyday in 13-under youth leagues on Oahu, it’s not hard to notice that he’s not as fluid and consistently explosive as he normally is. He could rest that ankle for awhile, but he won’t do that.
He just wants to be on the court. It’s hard to argue against that. Even with just four points, he was vital defensively with eight boards and two blocks. He just knows how to play the game from end to end. Watching him develop in this role is interesting, but I’ll be stoked — as many fans will, too — when he’s back to 100 percent.
Kahuku’s win included the superlative play of Dan Fotu, who scored 12 points in two quarters of work. He fits in seamlessly on defense, where he took on Mount Vernon’s 6-8 force in the paint. Years of battling older brother Isaac Fotu, former UH player, really shows in Dan’s lower-body strength, leverage and balance. He said he used to be a 3-point shooter, back before his growth spurt — he’s at least 6-6 — but his court vision is definitely that of a guard’s. When he made that perfect no-look dish to Kesi Ah-Hoy against Mount Vernon’s 1-2-2 trap, Kahuku fans could barely believe their eyes. The putback dunk to tie the game nearly blew the roof off the gym. And he hit the ensuing free throw, finishing 6-for-6 from the line.
Oak Hill was simply out of this world. They are not a typical high school program, even though they lost on Wednesday to Sierra Canyon (Calif.). Here’s the twist: Corona del Sol (Ariz.), the No. 1 team in Arizona’s 6A basketball, lost to Kailua 52-47 on Friday. CDS has two Division I commits (Alex Barcello and Saben Lee), but Marvin Bagley III transferred from the Aztecs to Sierra Canyon before the season.
Sierra Canyon beat Oak Hill on Wednesday as Bagley scored 28 points. Imagine how much the Aztecs miss him. There’s always going to be debate about home-state players and how they should stay within the boundaries and represent. If they want to leave, though, is that justification for animosity and shunning? Of course not.
Chatting with longtime sportswriter and ‘Iolani Classic veteran watcher Wes Nakama, it’s always a matter of life after college for him.
“College is just four years, so why would any player want to leave Hawaii?”
It’s a fair question. On the gridiron, Marcus Mariota found nationwide fame and success at Oregon, which led to a No. 1 draft pick with Tennessee. Colt Brennan arrived in Hawaii years before that and helped Hawaii reach an iconic peak. There’s room for all kinds of circumstances and successes.
Bagley in a Corona del Sol uniform would have been a treat to see. He got an offer from USC as a sophomore — the top 10th grader in the nation — and still moved on after getting an offer from Duke in June. The tournament in Indiana earlier this week did the trick as far as exposure goes. Aztecs fans can only lament.
De La Salle was solid on both ends in a 71-35 win over Waianae. Just a note: Douglas Mitchell, Waianae’s 6-3 senior, was tough in defeat. He scored 17 points and blocked four shots, grabbing eight rebounds.
DLS was simply too well-rounded for the Seariders. They were 30-3 last year, second in the CIF. But are they ready to knock off the cream of the crop?
Of the four quarterfinal matchups ahead on Monday, three involve Hawaii teams. Kailua and Kahuku won’t be paired with the tourney favorites, Findlay Prep and Oak Hill.
Kailua will face Southwind (Tenn.), which looked impressive on Friday. Kailua is equally dangerous when it plays its best basketball. The Surfriders upset ‘Iolani two weeks ago at the Surfrider Holiday Classic. But they’re still developing consistency on offense. They did just enough on Friday to get past Corona del Sol in a defensive battle.
Kahuku will take on De La Salle in a very intriguing matchup. The Red Raiders, as well as they played in the upset of Mount Vernon, are inconsistent offensively. DLS is all about consistency, and they have finishers in the backcourt and front court. Big Emeka Udenyi, a 6-6 senior, looks like a taller version of Christian Okoye when he explodes into the lane and executes his spin move.
And yet, this is another game Kahuku can win.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be a bit more interesting than usual with three Hawaii teams among the final eight, and the likes of Corona del Sol and Mount Vernon already in consolation play. The Corona-Punahou game on Monday morning might be the best and most entertaining battle of the day.