D-I top seed Kamehameha hungry


POSTED: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Seventeen years is a mighty long time to wait.

Most of the current Kamehameha Warriors weren't born when the school claimed its last boys basketball state championship. Getting a taste of that success — Kamehameha has five state titles and six runner-up finishes since the start of the tourney in 1957 — is first and foremost for the Warriors.

The Warriors, ranked No. 1 in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 most of the season, have the Division I top seed heading into the Hawaiian Airlines/HHSAA State Championships this week.

A week off, a reward for winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, didn't mean they took it easy. The Warriors ended last week with a scrimmage against alumni players. Everyone wants to bring the state crown back to Kapalama Heights. Coach Jesse Nakanishi and his staff have instilled defense into the Warriors DNA, even as they opened up the offense this season.

Pii Minns, a 6-foot-3 senior, has been a Michael Cooper-type defender, able to repel point guards, centers and everyone else in between. Minns' responsibilities narrowed a bit this year as point guard Chaz Bajet emerged on both ends of the floor.

“;Chaz is probably our best on-ball defender, he moves like a cornerback on an island,”; Minns said. “;Last year, with our lineup, I covered more guards.”;

While the revved-up offense, with depth in the low post and firepower from long range, has been occasionally cold, there's no easing up defensively. Since losing to St. Mary's Manhasset in the Aviator Sports Holiday Hoops Tournament in New York on Dec. 27, Kamehameha has permitted more than 49 points just once — a 70-57 win over Saint Louis.

Kamehameha is not exactly a dynasty yet, not with defending champ Punahou starting to peak, not with 2007 champion Kaimuki in the picture, and certainly not with 'Iolani lurking among the unseeded teams. Then, there's Oahu Interscholastic Association champion Kahuku, which sat atop the Star-Bulletin rankings midway through the season.

If there's a common thread through Kamehameha and Kahuku, it may be this: both teams can run the floor, and both can grind it out if necessary.

Kamehameha, with gunners and runners like 6-5 sophomore Micah Christenson, might have an edge.

“;It's a great time for Micah,”; Minns said. “;As young as he is, to get to play this style, it's a fun style to be in. We have a lot of halfcourt sets, but we have so many weapons.”;

One of them is Minns, a defensive stopper with few peers. He added range to his perimeter shot and is now effective on pull-up jumpers and 3-point bombs.

That might make Kamehameha the team to beat.

Here's a look at the seeded teams and first-round matchups.


1. Kamehameha Warriors (19-3)

Quarterfinal foe: Kalaheo or Radford

Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.

On paper: Minns, Bajet and Christenson have anchored the offense in transition and in halfcourt. Despite a midseason injury, Auwae DeRego (6-2) toughed it out and gives coach Nakanishi a big man who can step out for the midrange jumper.

Unheralded post players Blake Viena, Damien Teramae-Kaehuaea and Koa Ka'ai have been steady. Viena's unorthodox style belies his quick release and ability to get open under the basket for easy scores.

The skinny: The Warriors' only loss to a local team came against 'Iolani 44-42, but Kaimuki (60-57) and Punahou (41-37) have been close. Minns is a big key in the pressbreaker, in effect becoming a press killer with his height and his handling of the basketball.

X factor: Brandon Dumlao's knee injury (football) hasn't hurt the Warriors significantly just yet, but if Bajet and Minns get into foul trouble, the pressure will be on. Christenson has been a streaky 3-point shooter, but any bombs from him would be a bonus on top of his prolific rebounding skills.


2. Kahuku Red Raiders (22-2)

Quarterfinal foe: Punahou or Campbell

Tip-off: Thursday, 7 p.m., Jim Alegre Gym, Radford.

On paper: A loss during the OIA playoffs certainly sharpened the Red Raiders, who had won 14 games in a row, including one over Punahou at the Merv Lopes Classic.

Jray Galeai and Nehoa Akina are combo guards who give Kahuku scoring punch from the perimeter, while point guard Irwin Ah-Hoy is consistent and durable running the offense.

Christian Feagai's 6-8 frame is more towering than imposing. His lanky build is similar to most of Kahuku's post players this season, a different look from previous years when football linemen donned the tank tops.

Feagai, plus smooth Kona Schwenke (6-4) and versatile Shairone Thompson form part of a frontcourt that has big potential, but lacks the polish of the backcourt crew.

The skinny: Coach Hiram Akina was at Mililani last season when the Trojans won the OIA title. His teams there, and at Kahuku, have been on the run, so to speak, more often than not. But in last week's showdowns with Kaimuki, the Red Raiders were more than willing to grind it out. The 45-41 and 39-36 wins over Kaimuki worked well for the tall Red Raiders, but they are still a team that will outrun anyone if necessary.

X factor: Aulola Tonga is a force inside at 6-3, 205 pounds. He can hit the open 3, but his strength is incredible quickness. With Tonga and Galeai, both Division I-university football recruits, Kahuku's defense is formidable and can challenge any offense.


3. Waiakea Warriors (21-4)

Quarterfinal foe: 'Iolani or Lahainaluna

Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., Jim Alegre Gym, Radford.

On paper: Dakota Allen (6-4) gives the Warriors a little bit of height, but they're mostly undersized under the basket. Coach Paul Lee takes pride in the rebounding ability of his forwards, who are mostly in the 5-9 and 5-10 range.

Guard Mitchel Shintani is a rock-steady leader. The junior scored 15 points, as did Allen, in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation title-game win over Keaau.

The BIIF had a down year of sorts, so Waiakea played only one ranked team all year: 'Iolani. The Warriors lost 41-38 in a thriller on Dec. 13.

The skinny: Waiakea doesn't have a lot of perimeter shooting, which puts a premium on their offensive rebounding and defense — two elements Lee did quite well when he was a part of the Hilo Vikings championship team of 1991.

X factor: Which Warriors squad will show up this week — the one on a six-game win streak or the one that lost to Pearl City and Kealakehe? With three overtime wins during the win streak, it seems the Warriors have matured since those unexpected losses.


4. Baldwin Bears (18-4)

Quarterfinal foe: Kaimuki or Keaau

Tip-off: Thursday, 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.

On paper: Lincoln Seto had a scoring barrage (23 points per game) matched by few other guards statewide this season. Pusoni Tasini gives the Bears some scoring, and Micah Shibano adds plenty of experience in the backcourt.

Still, Baldwin is more inclined to a slower tempo and its traditional high-screen offense, using constant motion to lull defenses to sleep. Backdoor cuts and easy layups are still the bread and butter of Bears basketball. Baldwin has reached the semifinals seven times, but has never played in the final.

The skinny: After scoring in the 60s for most of the MIL season, Baldwin was slowed down in the playoffs and won the league title with a 25-23 win over Lahainaluna.

X factor: Seto will likely be wrapped up by a box-and-one defense at some point in the tourney. How will the Bears respond then?


Opening-round matchups

Kalaheo vs. Radford

Tip-off: Tomorrow, 7 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.

On paper: The Mustangs are 18-9 and the Rams are 17-9.

The teams met at the Punahou Tournament — Kalaheo won 48-46 — and once more in the OIA playoffs, when Kalaheo won 67-49.

Kalaheo's Aaron Fernandez, a 6-3 junior, has a silky-smooth 3-point shot. Matt Gasparine-Young is a strong rebounder and low-post scorer. Point guard Richard Preza Haynes is explosive and quick, unafraid to attack the basket in crunch time.

The Rams seems to play their best basketball when their backs are to the wall. They had to beat Mililani (66-60) to claim the OIA's fifth and final state berth a week ago. They're undersized, but are now well-rested and capable of upsetting any team.

Guard Quentin Kimura has one of the quickest releases in the state and can rain 3-point bombs in a hurry. Derrell Lee is just 6-1, but outrebounds bigger foes on a regular basis and is a clutch free-throw shooter.

The skinny: Radford uses a lot of halfcourt man defense, but has enough depth at guard to put fullcourt pressure on Kalaheo's backcourt. Coach Wayne Keyes extracts every ounce of sweat from this team, and they have the personnel to give Kalaheo difficulty before the Mustangs get to midcourt.

Kalaheo's best shooter, Fernandez, doesn't penetrate much at all, but if he can get to the free-throw line, points could come more easily.

X factor: Kalaheo sophomore Kona Makaula is a deadly midrange shooter who could step up this week when defenses back off.

Kaimuki vs. Keaau

Tip-off: Tomorrow, 5 p.m., McKinley Student Council Gym.

On paper: The Bulldogs are 18-9 overall, and Keaau went 9-5 in BIIF play.

The skinny: The Bulldogs are coming off a long, arduous double-elimination tournament, as well as two losses to Kahuku with the OIA title on the line.

Guards David Taulung and Jason Nutter have plenty of scoring punch. Taulung may be the best ballhandler in the tournament, showing flashes of spin moves and crossovers reminiscent of Bulldogs greats of yesteryear.

Center Desmond Tautofi (6-3, 270) recently committed to the Wyoming football team, but he's a big presence on the hardwood, too. The left-handed junior struggled occasionally during the regular season; he had just two points against Kahuku in early January, then scored 19 in a win over the Red Raiders in the playoffs.

Keaau is athletic, though not quite as tall as Kaimuki. The Cougars, led by coach Wade Ishibashi Jr., pushed Waiakea to the limit in last week's BIIF title game. Versatile Mtume Msikizi-Jackson is Keaau's leading scorer.

X factor: Since losing to Kalaheo on Jan. 8, only one other team (Kahuku) has beaten Kaimuki. Coach Kelly Grant designed his team to peak for this time of year, and the plan is working. Keaau has a puncher's chance, though. Kaimuki's early losses were mostly against athletic teams ('Iolani, Kamehameha, Moanalua).

Punahou vs. Campbell

Tip-off: Tomorrow, 7 p.m., Jim Alegre Gym, Radford.

On paper: The Buffanblu are 16-10, and the Sabers are 17-7. The teams have not met this season.

The return of forward Manti Te'o and swingman Henry Cassiday strengthens an already deep Punahou roster. Kimo Makaula, a 6-3, 225-pound senior, is a force underneath and also has a nice perimeter touch. Guards Dalton Hilliard and Robby Toma are quick defensively, but haven't been so consistent from the 3-point arc on the other end.

Patrick Ward, a 6-3 senior, is a matchup problem for most teams. He can stretch defenses out of the key with his 3-point range, but is most effective when he gets to the foul line, where he is accurate. Guards Kristian and Zachery Manuel are a brother duo that can be hot or cold. They combined for 51 points in a loss to Kalaheo last week.

The skinny: The Buffanblu are attacking zone defenses with more precision and patience now that the entire team is practicing together. Hitting open shots, though, is still a question mark.

Campbell loves to run the floor and has the guard skills to manage the clock late in a game. The Sabers, under first-year coach Zaricke Jackson, have been their own worst enemy at times, but have the potential to rule the big dance.

X factor: Punahou's halfcourt traps have thwarted teams in the past. If they gain momentum and catch fire, the defending champions could wind up back in the final.

'Iolani vs. Lahainaluna

Tip-off: Tomorrow, 5 p.m., Jim Alegre Gym, Radford.

On paper: The Raiders (20-5) are the highest-ranked team in the Star-Bulletin Top 10 that isn't seeded. The Lunas were 8-6 in the MIL.

Pablo Warner leads a relatively young 'Iolani squad that nearly won the ILH crown. The Raiders' two league losses were pretty close: 84-77 to Saint Louis and 42-36 to Kamehameha.

Lahainaluna was in close games all season long, reaching the MIL final with a 39-38 win over King Kekaulike.

Reimers Pinho and Ty Carter are primary scorers for the Lunas. Jake Manning, their standout quarterback in football, is an energizer off the bench.

The skinny: The Raiders, like Kamehameha, locked up a state berth in the regular season and have been idle for more than a week. Jarrett Arakawa has stepped up this season with scoring and rebounding. Kainoa Chu has continued to shoot fairly well despite an eye orbit injury.

X factor: The Lunas have been good from the foul line (15-for-20 against King Kekaulike) and not so good (12-for-31) against Baldwin.