HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Iolani’s drive to 5 all about dedication
After five state championships in a row, even Mark Mugiishi finds the voyage refreshing.
Heck, chances are most of the prep basketball world in the islands finds Iolani's dynasty intriguing. They didn't have a player who averaged more than 15 points per game. The Raiders' main reserves played nearly as many minutes as the starters. In fact, aside from 6-foot-4 Kawika Shoji, sometimes Iolani fielded a team on the floor that was 6-foot and under.
Mugiishi's teams have won with and without size, with and without marquee players. Much of their success is because of Mugiishi and his assistant coaches. A lot also has to do with offseason dedication. Workouts in the weight room. Shootarounds in the gym.
The beauty of basketball is that the price a player pays to improve is a matter of commitment, not dollars. And though Iolani is one of the more blessed schools in terms of resources, its boys basketball team was all about basic, simple, blue-collar work ethic. Sweat. Repetition. Pain and growth.
That is what separates the Iolani dynasty from the rest. And the voyage continues.
Neighbor Island rise: The first two rounds of last week's 50th Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA State Championships showed, perhaps, that the Neighbor Islands are continuing to catch up to Oahu programs.
One factor, however, that can't be denied is that teams such as Honokaa benefited from the high school gym setting. Whether it's simply a comfort zone to be in a smaller facility, or perhaps more, the results were staggering.
Honokaa led Kahuku before losing in overtime, 67-63, at James Alegre Gym. Kamehameha struggled to a 49-45 win over their cousins from Kamehameha-Hawaii in a game at McKinley Student Council Gym.
Lahainaluna sank nine 3-pointers and nearly upset Kamehameha, a team that was ranked No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 for much of the season. Cheyenne Meyer, a sharpshooter from Honokaa back in the day, has a simple explanation. Meyer noted depth perception as a huge key in a shooter's success.
"In Stan Sheriff Arena, yeah, it's tough especially if you never shot in an arena before," the Dragons coach said. "When I found out our first game would be at Radford, I didn't mind that at all."
In Honokaa's case, inexperience and poor free-throw shooting down the stretch proved detrimental. For Lahainaluna, it was an uphill battle against Kamehameha, a team that excelled at the foul line all year and won tons of close battles.
Closing the gap: Kaimuki made the most drastic improvement of all Oahu Interscholastic Association teams by roaring through the league playoffs and state tourney.
The Bulldogs proved human in the title-game loss to Iolani, but along with Kalaheo, showed that teamwork and coaching can do wonders over a period of two months.
Back in December, the ILH was clearly the dominant league. Until the state tourney, voters in the Top 10 recognized that fact and kept five ILH teams in the poll all season long.
However, Kaimuki's 46-41 overtime win over Kamehameha in the state semifinals showed that the Bulldogs were both resilient and smart enough to take care of a lead down the stretch against one of the ILH's best.
While Kaimuki rose eight spots to No. 2, Kalaheo jumped five notches to No. 5 after knocking off two Neighbor Island champions.
The Mustangs dismantled Baldwin 49-37 and Kamehameha-Hawaii 54-34. Kalaheo's up-and-down season ended a bit sour with a quarterfinal loss to Iolani, but the wins over the Maui and Big Island champs solidified what many fans know: Chico Furtado brings out the best in his teams in the postseason.
Disappointment unavoidable: Saint Louis' upset loss to the OIA fourth-place team, Campbell, triggered an avalanche in the Top 10 that sent OIA teams upward and ILH squads downward.
Saint Louis closed the tourney out strong, but slipped to No. 7. Punahou, which didn't play in the tourney, fell five spots to No. 9. And the previous No. 9, Maryknoll, dropped out.
Turnovers hurt Bears: Baldwin didn't do nearly as well as last season when it reached the state semifinals.
Though the Bears lost three major contributors to graduation, they won the Maui Interscholastic League with an 11-1 mark.
At the state tourney, the Bears pushed Kahuku hard before losing in the quarterfinals, then were sent packing by Kalaheo. Turnovers did the young Bears in, as did injury. Senior Matt Heyd was never quite the same after injuring his ankle for a third time during nonconference play.