HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
OIA hoops playoffs ripe for surprises
The league's top teams will be vulnerable if they don't show urgency
The five senses apply to basketball.
It's the other sense that is sometimes forgotten, particularly by weary teams at the end of a regular season. Consistently, teams show up for the playoffs without that critical sixth sense: urgency.
The teams that play with a sense of urgency pounce on their opponents early and never let up. Squads that sleepwalk, go through the motions and refuse to play completely alert are usually the ones who are surprised, upset and sent home for the season.
Who plays with a sense of urgency? A look at the teams that qualified for the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs tells all. Undersized, undermanned teams like Pearl City and McKinley are living proof that smart game plans and good execution beat athleticism and raw talent often enough.
Even some of the less-skilled shooting teams, like Radford, can go a long way with complete effort on the defensive end. The intangibles -- desire, unselfishness, willpower -- separate the best from the rest. That's why the OIA playoffs, at least this year, are as unpredictable as any in recent history.
The top two teams in each division earned first-round byes and will not play until Saturday. Here is a look at those squads:
» Kahuku (10-1), East No. 1 seed. The Red Raiders lost a bit of the shine on their brilliant regular season after
losing at Roosevelt last week. Though ranked among the top five in the Star-Bulletin's poll most of the year, Kahuku was often overrated by voters who seemed to forget that the East wasn't a beast this season.
"I look at it as a new season," Kahuku coach Nathan James said. "There are things we can do in between to improve on certain areas. Losing to Roosevelt showed us we have things to work on. We have to clean up a few things defensively and offensively."
Now ranked eighth statewide, the Red Raiders are heavily reliant on Okesene Ale Jr., who deserves the kudos that come with being the state's best all-around player. Ale led the East with 23.6 points per game and nailed 26 3-pointers (2.4 per game). When foes slowed the tempo, Kahuku was highly beatable, as Farrington and McKinley proved.
When it comes to playing at rim level, hitting the hardwood for loose balls and pure hustle, few teams match the proud Red Raiders.
Kahuku (16-6 overall) will host its playoff games, a huge change from last year. The Red Raiders were required to bus into town in 2005 for televised games. This time around, they'll have the immense support of the Red Raider nation in defense of their OIA crown.
"It's a huge bonus to keep it at home. I think for anybody in that position, it would be the crowd and added excitement," James said.
» Mililani (10-0), West No. 1 seed. The Trojans have made big strides since Hiram Akina became head coach. A year ago, the Trojans barely made the playoffs and squeezed past Waianae to reach the quarterfinals.
This time, they went unbeaten in the slightly improved West. They have shooters in Donovan Olmos and Nick Kanno, and multi-skilled slashers in Ken Moses and A.J. Clark. Mililani also has muscle in the paint with Brandon Dela Cruz and a posse of post players.
Still, the Trojans are probably the luckiest 10-0 team around. They beat two cellar dwellers by a total of three points in the past week. In fact, the Trojans don't really know how to put teams away. They relish close games, clutch free-throw shooting and uptempo basketball.
This may not be Akina's best team as his Trojan era begins. Despite their seeding and ranking (sixth in the Top 10), they could easily be upset if business isn't handled.
» Kaimuki (9-2), East No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs have the tools and talent to not only qualify for the state tourney, but pull an upset or two once they arrive.
Center Beau Albrechtson's emergence in the past three weeks has solidified a team that has plenty of scoring on the low post and the wing. Daniel Colon is a playmaking guard with a wide wingspan. When his turnover count is low, offensive opportunities open up for streak shooter Thomas Pyo and consistent inside force Keone Reyes. Shaun Dela Cazada is a tough matchup for most opposing posts.
If the Bulldogs (16-8 overall) take care of the ball and show smart shot selection in crunch time, they could be the best team in the OIA. If not, 10th-ranked Kaimuki could be upset fodder.
» Campbell (9-1), West No. 2 seed. The Sabers may be the most overlooked team in the league. Coach Bobby Samson's steady influence brought the Sabers within one quarter of an unbeaten West run. Campbell had a double-digit lead at Mililani before crumbling in the fourth quarter a month ago.
Ryan Hayes is possibly the most underrated point guard in the state. The senior is explosive with the ball and thrives in Campbell's fast break. Tristan Sealy is a perfect spot-up shooter and slasher for Hayes.
The return of Mark Makinano is a huge boost for Campbell, which had a thin bench. Makinano has averaged in double figures since returning, including an 18-point effort in a win over Radford.
Here is a look at tomorrow's opening-round games.
Leilehua (7-3) vs. Roosevelt (7-4)
The Mules are an old-school team with a strong low-post scorer in 6-foot-3, 255-pound Clayton Laurel (14 points per game) and a solid guard in Kennedy Orteza.
Roosevelt is possibly the best fifth seed in OIA playoff history. Injuries to Kerstan Ho (11 ppg) and Keo Keola (10.4 ppg) sidetracked the Rough Riders early in the season. Today, though, no reasonable team wants to face a healthy Roosevelt team or veteran coach John Chung.
"If you want to play in the state tournament, you gotta beat the best," Leilehua coach Keith Spencer said.
The skinny: The Mules are seeded higher (West No. 4), but unless they play their best game of the season, it will be difficult to overcome Roosevelt. Ho is one of the best players in the state when healthy and energetic. The 6-3 senior has a nice 3-point shot, good handles and court vision.
Radford (7-3) vs. McKinley (6-5)
The Rams were a top-10 team for much of the season, posting wins over several currently ranked teams in December. Since then, however, offensive struggles have haunted them.
McKinley is back in the playoffs after struggling last year. The Tigers play smart halfcourt basketball, and coach Bob Morikuni knows how to manage tempo and personnel with the best. Nainoa Lessary (12 ppg) and Dat Vo (10.9 ppg) are key cogs in the Tigers' overachieving season.
The skinny: Radford's all-out defensive mentality is a huge factor in a playoff environment. Gary Satterwhite (17 ppg) and Michael So'oto are tough scorers who will shoulder the load again.
Kalaheo (8-3) vs. Kapolei (6-4)
This may be the best Kapolei team in the school's short history. Cameron Moody (12.3 ppg) carried some of the load when Brad Padayao (10.9 ppg) missed games due to football recruiting trips.
Kalaheo has several weapons, but none scored more than 10 points per game. Marvin Judd, Kahua Hollinger and Koa Siliga are offensive sparks.
The skinny: Po'okela Ahmad and Moody are tough under the glass, but they will be challenged by Kalaheo's 6-5 center, Tyler Caswell.
Chico Furtado has shown that he can win no matter what kind of talent is stocked in the cupboard. This team has skill and likes to press across the floor. This would be the right time to start peaking.
Moanalua (9-2) vs. Pearl City (5-5)
The Menehunes are probably the one team in the playoffs that rely on momentum to an extreme. Wayne West (16.5 ppg, 2.1 treys per game) and Bao Jun Lei (14.6) rank among the top five in East scoring.
Pearl City, behind Travis Cruz (13 ppg, 2.6 treys per game) and Rollie Salvacion, surprised many by reaching the playoffs. Lionel Villarmia's team isn't the biggest or fastest, but the Chargers know how to win.
The skinny: Moanalua relies on a fullcourt press to take advantage of its quickness in the backcourt. The press also hides the Menehunes' weaknesses in halfcourt defense. If Pearl City handles the press effectively and attacks Moanalua off the dribble, the Chargers could pull an upset.
At Radford H.S.
Game 1: Kalaheo vs. Kapolei, 5 p.m.
2: Radford vs. McKinley, 6:30 p.m.
At Moanalua H.S.
3: Leilehua vs. Roosevelt, 5 p.m.
4: Moanalua vs. Pearl City, 6:30 p.m.
At Mililani H.S.
5: Kaimuki vs. Game 2 winner, 6:30 p.m.
6: Mililani vs. Game 1 winner, 8 p.m.
At Kahuku H.S.
7: Campbell vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
8: Kahuku vs. Game 3 winner, 6:30 p.m.
At McKinley H.S.
9: Winners of games 7 & 8, 5:30 p.m.
10: Winners of games 5 & 6, 7 p.m.
FRIDAY FEB. 17
At McKinley H.S.
11: Losers of games 9 & 10, 5:30 p.m.
12: Winners of games 9 & 10, 7 p.m.