Aiea gets a second chance in OIA White playoffs
Thompson is taken out of the OIA tournament for using an ineligible player against Na Alii
Basketball is a game of second chances, all right.
For Aiea, a second chance is coming in the nick of time. The Oahu Interscholastic Association ruled yesterday that Thompson Academy used an ineligible player in a playoff win over Aiea on Saturday.
That means that Aiea, not Thompson, has advanced to the OIA White Conference semifinals. Aiea will face Farrington tonight at 6:30 after a 5 p.m. matchup between McKinley and Kaiser. Both semifinal games will be played at Kaiser.
Aiea and Thompson were in a quandary for the past few days, unsure of what the league would rule. With league officials and school representatives meeting with OIA executive director Dwight Toyama late yesterday afternoon, Aiea coach Wyatt Tau decided to take a deep breath and relax.
"Coach postponed practice until we could find out. We usually practice at 4 (p.m.)," senior guard Lofa Liilii said.
The league ruled that the ineligible player, who was on the roster of Word of Life at the start of the season, should not have been permitted to play for Thompson.
The player scored one point in Thompson's 62-60 win, leaving the Sharks and coach Sol Batoon all the more disappointed with the turn of events.
"It was avoidable because I asked the question for two weeks: 'Is he eligible?' and they said yes," said Batoon, who still did not play the transfer player until the playoff game.
"He's not a good offensive player, but he works hard and he could help us a little bit. He's not a threat to anything," Batoon added.
The way the information about the ineligible player came about is another bizarre twist.
"All of this only came about because one of the Thompson parents was complaining. She came to us after the game," Tau said. "She wanted us to do something about it because her son wasn't playing after the new guy joined their team. We were just gonna take the loss, but she came up to us. She said if we're not gonna do nothing about it, she's gonna do something."
The league was investigating the postgame incidents between Aiea fans and Thompson players, and fans of both teams, when the topic of the ineligible player surfaced. In the meantime, Aiea considered the season done.
"I put everything away on Sunday," said Tau, a first-year varsity head coach.
Word got out to both schools before 6 p.m. yesterday. Aiea, 10-1 entering the playoffs, went back on the hardwood and had one of its best practice sessions of the season.
Thompson was 5-7 and a No. 4 seed entering the postseason. The Sharks' Cinderella dreams after winning their first playoff game ever, were crushed. Batoon chalked it up to administrative inexperience.
"At this level, when you have a program that's rolling in a positive way, you gotta make sure everything behind the scenes is correct," he said.
For Aiea, a team with several members of the football squad, the second chance is two-fold. On the gridiron, untimely injuries played a role in their short run in the postseason.
"It's funny because me, Eric (James), Miah (Tausaga), Ryan (Mora) and Alan (Fonoti) were talking about everything that happened with football. We couldn't do it this football season. We want to end this season with something," Liilii said. "Today's practice, we were pretty focused. There was less playing around and everybody was pushing each other to play their best.
"Now that we get our second chance, everything that's happened doesn't really matter now," he added.
"Everything" also refers to the postgame fracas that marred the game. The incident that moved outside the gym involved spectators -- adults -- and Batoon said it is probable that charges will be made by the Thompson fans who were part of the clash.
"The other part to this madness is there was a riot started by Aiea, attacking players, fans. My fans were just elated about winning the game. I got them (my players) into the locker room before anybody got hurt," Batoon said. "Aiea got no punishment. They got rewarded. We're talking in forked tongues here."
Tau apologized to the Thompson team after the game in their locker room, he said, noting that video provided by Thompson at yesterday's meeting revealed Aiea coaches trying to prevent trouble.
"The video (from Thompson) that they showed at the meeting showed our coaches trying to move our players off the court," Tau said.
Batoon is still not at peace.
"I would've felt better if both teams were suspended. One, because of the riot that they caused, and two, because of the technicality on our side," he said. "I feel bad for our players. They worked hard all year. They were two, three points away in every game they played. They could've gone undefeated."
For Aiea, the uniforms are back out and Na Alii have another opportunity.
"We need to refocus. I think we took (Thompson) lightly because we beat them earlier," Tau said. "Regular season and postseason is a different mentality. I think our kids, and myself as a coach, took them for granted."
Aiea, which plays a run-and-gun style of ball, did its usual early substitutions. Despite an 18-point lead, Tau thinks he should have kept his starters in longer.
"You gotta give Thompson credit. They played a great fourth quarter," he said.
Though Aiea was scheduled to host all White Conference games as long as it won, the league had already moved the semifinals to Kaiser. Aiea did not protest the change in site.