HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL
Iolani climbs to No. 1; Punahou falls to No. 3
The turbulence has reached the top.
Much of the Star-Bulletin Boys Basketball Top 10 poll has endured fickle changes by the panel of coaches and media this season, but that was relegated mostly to the lower five.
Today, the panel has punished Punahou, which lost 72-63 to Iolani on Saturday. In the Buffanblu's place is the new No. 1-ranked team, Iolani.
It's a matter, more or less, of who's done the most lately. Iolani, Saint Louis and Punahou, each with one loss in the rugged Interscholastic League of Honolulu, could easily be 1a, 1b and 1c. Iolani received 12 of the 23 first-place votes. Saint Louis claimed eight, and Punahou still received the remaining three.
The Raiders, who have won five state titles in a row, are no stranger to the No. 1 spot.
Turbulent tail end: Last week, three teams jumped into the Top 10. Of them, only Keaau remains this week. Kaiser and University dropped out after stunning losses. The Cougars lost at McKinley, and University was toppled by Kamehameha II.
Is there a Star-Bulletin Top 10 jinx? Possibly. The newcomers to this week's poll are old faces: Moanalua (No. 7) and Kamehameha (No. 10). Moanalua has an insane schedule ahead, with four games in just five nights, jam-packed because a game with Kalaheo was rescheduled.
Kamehameha's week won't be any easier. The Warriors returned to the Top 10, but will take on Iolani and Punahou this weekend. Such is life in the merciless ILH.
Cowboy road show: One of the state's best-kept secrets is Kohala, a program always blessed with talented guards, but usually lacking in size.
This year is different. Center Ikaika Kahoopii, at 6-5, is among the most improved players in the islands. His backup is 6-3 Alex Vujovich, a sophomore from Russia. It's been a long time since the tiny school had such height.
"I think never," coach Don Fernandez said. The Cowboys upset a hot Honokaa squad at the Dragons' gym last week and are now 14-4 overall, 7-1 in the tough Big Island Interscholastic Federation. Kahoopii scored 30 points in the win at Lester Bryan Armory in Honokaa, easily the loudest and most hostile crowd in the state.
"It was that kind of game that night, it was like a playoff game," Fernandez said.
Their current team is reminiscent, Fernandez said, of Kohala title contenders of the past.
"We have some skilled athletes, probably not as deep as some of those teams," he said.
Fourth-year senior guard Ryan Bautista guides coach Don Fernandez's squad with poise. The Cowboys went from no recognition last week to a 20-point vote total today, missing the Top 10 by five points. What makes their success a bit more remarkable is that they haven't had a true home game all season.
Last October's earthquake caused damage to Hisaoka Gym, a county facility used by the boys basketball program. Playing in the school's ancient gym, which has bleachers only on one side, is not a real option.
"The school gym is really small for the crowd we draw, and it's old, too, so our principal was worried about safety," Fernandez said. "We usually have a big following, the biggest draw in the BIIF."
So, with cooperation from "neighbor" Hawaii Prep, the Cowboys are playing home games on the road. HPA is 28 miles from Kohala's campus. They've turned a minus into a plus, though.
"I kinda was thinking, no matter what happens, we'd be tough because we do this. If we make states, we're in a win-win situation," said Fernandez, now in his sixth year at the helm.
In the meantime, they've made do even with an abbreviated practice schedule. When the school gym's floor was waxed early in the season, the Cowboys hit the road, literally.
"We couldn't even use our own gym for a while, so we've used an old Mormon gym in Hawi that's used as a cultural civic center," he said.
The community is hoping to get Hisaoka Gym back up to standards.
"There's some structural damage to the conference rooms and other areas on the perimeter," Fernandez said. "We have plenty of volunteers who want to fix it, but I think liability is an issue. They said we'll have a meeting after the season with the county."