ILH BOYS BASKETBALL PREVIEW
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou guard Miah Ostrowski scored 24 points against Salesian of California in the final of the Punahou Holiday Classic, a game the Buffanblu lost in overtime.
Shooters ensure Iolani, Punahou not alone at the top
Five of the ILH's seven teams are ranked in the Star-Bulletin Top 10; league play begins tonight
CAN'T win 'em all, really.
"Only" five of the seven Division I teams in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu occupy spots in the Star-Bulletin Boys Basketball Top 10. The top four teams in the poll are all from the ILH: No. 1 Punahou, No. 2 Iolani, No. 3 Kamehameha and No. 4 Saint Louis.
Not far behind is No. 7 Maryknoll. Only Damien and Mid-Pacific are not ranked. Yet.
Such is life in the world of Hawaii high school basketball. This year, unlike the past few, marks a return to seasons of the past, when the ILH not only won the state title, but dominated the scene in breadth and depth.
Even with three state-tournament berths available, that might not be enough to please ILH basketball fans. They might be right by regular season's end, when at least two quality teams will be done.
The regular season tips off with three games tonight. Four-time defending state champion Iolani hosts upstart Saint Louis, Punahou entertains Damien and Mid-Pacific visits Kamehameha.
Watchers of both the ILH and the Oahu Interscholastic Association will not be able to deny one of the absolute truths about this season: shooting accuracy in the ILH is at another level compared to the OIA. While nearly all of the ILH's D-I teams have at least four good shooters, OIA title contenders barely have two apiece.
For some of the contenders, there's only one reliable gunner from the perimeter. That's just one factor that makes the ILH the superior basketball league, and the numbers don't lie: ILH
D-I teams are 21-5 against OIA competition so far.
There's no simple reason for the disparity in skills between the two leagues. Practicing a 3-point shot or free throw costs nothing more than the price of a basketball and a pair of shoes.
In the OIA, where one title contender missed 41 free throws in a nonconference game, the results speak for themselves.
Here's a look at the ILH D-I squads:
On paper: The Monarchs are skilled enough to compete, but getting into the win column will be difficult in the ILH. Matt Gochenouer has matured into a go-to player. The 6-foot-3 senior swingman is Damien's leading scorer.
Sophomores Haku Correa (6-1) and Aminis Thompson (6-2) have shown flashes of scoring ability. Mike Sipili (6-2) and Lolomana Mikaele (6-2), a pair of highly coveted college football prospects, give the Monarchs plenty of muscle in the paint. Junior center Sione Tau, at 6-5, 270 pounds, is an anchor in the middle.
The Skinny: The Monarchs have a multitude of close losses, including a pair to No. 10 Kalaheo and No. 5 Kamehameha-Hawaii. Finding consistent complementary scorers and playmakers has been a challenge for Kamanao.
On paper: The four-time defending state champions face their toughest path in half a decade. Mugiishi, a doctor by trade, will need all of his skill to deliver another ILH crown, let alone a state title.
Seniors Vinny Nip and Kawika Shoji are the cornerstone returnees. Nip, a 5-9 sharpshooter, has few peers from the 3-point arc and is one of the top defenders in the league. Shoji, a 6-4 senior who will play volleyball at Stanford, brings a nice collection of skills to the hardwood. His role is key as a high-post passer and mid-range shooter. Defensively, he can leap with the best of them.
The Skinny: More than ever, the Raiders are relying on role play and depth. Mugiishi can go 10-12 deep in the course of any game as Iolani uses its patented halfcourt trapping defense. Barry Kang has a key role as a pass-first point guard, and post defenders Wally Marciel and Jon Takamura are valuable stoppers.
Liloa Nobriga has an old-school set of skills on the wing and low post. At 6-3, he may be the top freshman in the state.
A trip to Oregon for the Les Schwab Invitational last week gave Mugiishi plenty of reason for optimism. He's not alone. Though Iolani went 8-6 in nonconference play, many coaches believe the Raiders are still the team to beat.
On paper: Of all the teams Nakanishi has guided on Kapalama Heights, this may be his most cohesive. The Warriors have experienced, skilled returnees in guard Rykin Enos and forward Jacob Ho. Enos, a savvy left-hander with a deadly 3-point shot, was named MVP of the Pete Smith Classic.
Kanoa Mokiao has emerged as a key contributor. The 6-2 senior was named to the all-tournament team at the Punahou Holiday Classic last week as the Warriors placed third in a 16-team field.
For the most part, this is a no-name team (so far) that has been outstanding in playing winning basketball. The Warriors had one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the state and went 9-2.
The Skinny: Team play, good ball movement and superior transition defense make Nakanishi's teams difficult to face at all times. Kamehameha's opportunistic style of play will pose problems for turnover-plagued teams, but the Warriors are also smaller than Punahou and Saint Louis.
On paper: The infusion of new talent with the old is working well so far. The Spartans went 11-5 in nonconference action, playing their best when senior guard Tyler Tsukazaki was healthy.
Junior Travis Liu (6-0) has been a nice addition to the backcourt, and junior Zachary Misajon (5-11) and sophomore Jordan Napoleon (6-3) have helped returning starter Jordan Ho-Ching (6-0) patrol the paint.
Tsukazaki, who missed a bit of action recently with the flu, has been brilliant against solid competition. He scored 37, hitting on six of seven 3-point attempts, in a win over OIA West contender Kapolei in the title game of the Black and Gold Invitational. He pumped in 31 points in a win over OIA East contender Kalaheo.
Liu has scored in double figures more often than not and was named along with Tsukazaki to the all-tourney team at the Black and Gold.
The Skinny: Gier's team has much more depth and height this season, and theoretically can still bang inside with ILH foes when Tsukazaki is targeted. But the record shows that the Spartans have lost close games without their backcourt leader. As their young post players develop confidence, this season could extend beyond ILH play.
The X-factor for Maryknoll will likely be free-throw shooting, one of the Spartans' strengths. They shot 22-for-22 in one of their nonconference games.
On paper: Freshman Marcus Holyfield has come alive lately. He poured in 23 points in a loss to Santana (Calif.) and 26 in a win over Hawaii Baptist.
The Skinny: The Owls are committed to playing in Division I for all sports, but this is a rough time to be a basketball team in the ILH. Any team without at least three bonafide scorers and solid point-guard play will have tremendous difficulty against the swarming defenses the league is well-known for.
On paper: In Year 3 of the Miah Ostrowski/Spencer McLachlin era, the Buffanblu are cemented as the favorites in the ILH. That bull's-eye target isn't quite what Tacon wants, though.
It won't matter to Ostrowski, who thrives in the spotlight and loves to take clutch shots. His 24-point effort against Salesian (Calif.) in the final of the Punahou Holiday Classic was an amazing display of high-pressure shooting.
McLachlin's 3-point shot has returned, which makes the 6-7 forward-center a matchup headache.
Perhaps more intriguing, though, is Tacon's platoon system that includes up to 13 players. He is employing fullcourt pressure from start to finish, and several Buffanblu have the green light to launch from downtown.
Danny Cho has stepped up as one of the state's top long-range shooters. The senior guard hit some key shots in preseason, including a trey in the final second of regulation to send the game with Salesian into overtime.
At 12-3, with just one loss to local competition (half of the team was absent due to football and other commitments) it is mesmerizing to see the Buffanblu rely on more than just Ostrowski and McLachlin. Kyle Whitford, a reserve guard, is among the other gunners who will shoot the open trey.
Underneath, Freddie Hart, Kameron Steinhoff and 6-6 Kealii Frank provide plenty of energy and rebounding.
The Skinny: Tacon has reined in his coaching style to an extent, but the passion will always be there. His team's high-pressure defense and explosive offense fit his personality to a 'T' (no pun intended).
SAINT LOUIS CRUSADERS
On paper: With a 5-0 nonconference record, the question marks have become exclamation points at Kalaepohaku. Jeremiah Masoli, who transferred from California and became a late-season contributor as a backup quarterback, also has an indelible effect on the hardwood. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he may be the biggest point guard in the state. His court vision, mid-range jumper and trusty handles make him the best point guard at Saint Louis since Junior Wong.
He was named MVP of the Walter Wong Classic last week, leading the Crusaders to a 3-0 mark. That included a stunning upset of St. Mary's, ranked No. 10 in California.
Masoli, of course, isn't alone. Cole Shidaki's mid-range shot has become accurate in his sophomore season, and senior swingman Cameron Bayne is a tough matchup. Shidaki, at 6-foot, and Bayne, at 6-1, can shoot over most guards without much of a challenge.
Under the boards, Saint Louis has one of its tallest front courts ever. Tengan doesn't hesitate to rotate Scott Smith (6-5), Jamison Miller (6-5), Elliott Purcell (6-3), Solomana Aigamaua (6-3), Joshua Yuen (6-2) and Jacob Barit (6-2).
The Skinny: With all their swingmen and posts, much of it would still be a puzzle if not for Masoli's court presence and decision-making success. They've only played five games, but the Crusaders look like a team in midseason form.
Free-throw shooting will be the factor that propels or derails Saint Louis. They made 15 of 22 tries in the win over St. Mary's, but proceeded to make just 23 of 55 attempts against Schurr (Calif.) and 10 of 25 against La Jolla Country Day (Calif.).