Punahou rules the paint


POSTED: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Few high school basketball teams in Hawaii can make the claim of having one good big man, let alone two, but that is exactly the situation Punahou has with DeForest Buckner (6-foot-7) and Malik Johnson (6-6).

The Buffanblu's 20-4 record and berth into the HHSAA state basketball tournament after last week's 65-59 victory over No. 4 Kamehameha has been largely guided by the powerful 1-2 punch of the sophomore towers.

“;You can't teach height,”; Punahou head coach Alika Smith said. “;The first thing when I seen them I said we have to find out what kind of individuals they are, and they are better individuals than they are basketball players, and that is what makes it easier. From the first day they just want to absorb everything they can from us as a coaching staff and they have been doing that and they have been succeeding.”;

The dynamic duo first met in the summer of their eighth grade year and now share more than just a connection on the court.

“;We just cruise around school together, eat lunch; on the weekends I go over to his house or he comes over to mine,”; Buckner said.

“;Sometimes we go to movies, play games or whatever, we just hang out with each other a lot,”; Johnson interjected.

While Buckner and Johnson have known each other for just a handful of years, their bond has grown strong and they both have hopes that it could continue on much past their time at Punahou.

“;We were talking about that, about getting a scholarship, at the same school that we would both like and be able to play ball together in college,”; Buckner said.

Although Buckner and Johnson now have a great friendship and good feel for each other on the court, those traits didn't develop over night.

“;I knew it was going to be a good thing because of how tall (Buckner) was, but it took some time for us to connect and click. After time came, we started to connect and click and it started to look good,”; Johnson said.

The close friendship that the two sophomores have developed has also allowed the twosome to push hard against each other in practice and not worry about hurt feelings.

“;In practice we go hard against each other a lot. We like to compete against each other; we go one on one and see who is the better big man. When he goes out and makes a big play, it drives me to go out and make a bigger play. We just feed off each other,”; Buckner said.

The competition of two of the best big men in the state of Hawaii going at it day after day in practice has changed the feel of games for both of the Punahou towers.

“;Nobody is as big as (Johnson), so practice is harder than the game because how he plays against me and how other guys play against me, he is much harder competition than other guys,”; Buckner said.

Buckner and Johnson's hard work in practice and imposing stature on the court will make it difficult for teams to handle once the state tournament begins today. The Buffanblu open against Kamehameha-Maui at 5 p.m. at McKinley.

“;On offense, if they are double-teaming him, I'm going to get some easy layups. They have to pick their poison; either they have to get me or get (Buckner). One of us is going to go off,”; Johnson said.