Moanalua will count on returnees this season


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

The new season brings a fresh outlook for Moanalua, which begins the post-Stevie Austin era.






        With league play in high school basketball approaching, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10s, as determined in a poll of coaches and media members:


10. Saint Louis


9. Moanalua



Even without Austin, who was second in the voting for Star-Bulletin player of the year before graduating, coach Greg Tacon has a host of returnees back from a squad that was on the verge of playing for the state title. For Moanalua (3-3), a No. 9 ranking in the Star-Bulletin Preseason Top 10 says a lot about expectations. Few teams could lose a talent like Austin and still be ranked this early in the season.

On paper: Moanalua was 23-16 last season (12-5 OIA Red) and finished at No. 8 in the Top 10, which says nothing about the tumult and heartbreak (due to an ineligible player) the team experienced at the state tournament. It was a bitter end for a team that overcame injuries and was playing its best basketball at season's end.

This year, they welcome back guards Randy Starks and Josiah Kauhola to anchor the backcourt. Marcus Monroe grew in the offseason and is now a 6-foot-4 junior. His ability to block shots is key for Na Menehune's defense. Monroe also has 3-point range, which was vital last season, drawing post players to the perimeter to open the lanes for penetrators.

Richard Villasenor was the lone freshman on the roster last year, but he has already blossomed as a sophomore. The burly 6-2 post had 14 points and eight rebounds in Moanalua's loss to Kamehameha two weeks ago.

The team is generally young—just two seniors.

“;It's a learning-as-you-go process,”; Tacon said. “;We're still learning how to play, learning how to cheer for each other.”;

The skinny: Chemistry and defense have always been pillars of Tacon's perspective. Whether this season's team can make the adjustments and find consistent defense and scoring—and press breaking—without Austin and the other now-gone seniors remains to be seen.

Monroe is already drawing all kinds of attention from opposing defenses.

“;He's learning to become a leader,”; Tacon said. “;I think he's up to it.”;

X factor: Austin was capable of being a one-man pressbreaker. Without him, Moanalua has struggled against quick, taller defenders. Kamehameha went to a halfcourt trap in two nonconference wins against Na Menehune.

The pieces are there, though. Kauhola and Starks are good ballhanders. Given time, Tacon should have the Moanalua ship heading toward success again. It's a matter of maturation.

“;When guys make mistakes, we've got to learn how to shake it off,”; said Tacon, who is always willing to live with growing pains early in the season.

“;My biggest deal is we don't have to be real good in December. Just be good in the end.”;