The time has arrived
PUKALANI – This week’s Hawaiian Airlines Division I Boys Basketball State Championship is the time to get it done for King Kekaulike High School. Let’s just say there is no plan B.
Na Alii finished 18-0 on Maui this season, but eight of the players have finished their prep careers on the Valley Isle.
King Kekaulike won the first Maui Interscholastic League title in program history this year, one season after making its initial state tournament, and the nucleus of the roster has been working together nearly year-round since 6th grade. The team has no one younger than a junior.
“Who isn’t excited for an opportunity like this?” junior guard Chase Iwata-Bartelme said before practice Monday. “Well, the work ethic has been great. When we won our (MIL) championship game it wasn’t about the fact that we made history or any of that. It was, ‘It’s time to go to work for real now.’ Our practice picked up, it’s been good.”
Third-seeded King Kekaulike (19-4 overall, 14-0 MIL) will play a quarterfinal on Thursday against either defending state-champion Punahou or Farrington.
“To be honest, a little bit of the team is scared because it’s Punahou,” Iwata-Bartelme said. “But you have got to go in like you are 0-0, you haven’t won a game, and you are coming to make a statement because that’s what we do.”
MIL runner-up Baldwin plays Kapolei on Wednesday. In Division II, third-seeded Seabury Hall opens Thursday against University.
Last season, after qualifying for the state tournament as the MIL runner-up, King Kekaulike knocked off two-time defending state-champion Kamehameha Kapalama before losing its next two games.
“Last season, they didn’t even know how to pronounce our name,” said Na Alii coach Bill Naylor.
Iwata-Bartelme said: “We have to go with the mindset that we can beat this team because at the top of our game there is the possibility that we could. We came to the state tournament last year and did what we wanted to do, we made noise, and this year we plan to go farther. I’m not saying we could or we couldn’t, but our goal is to take it to the top.”
In December, Na Alii lost 57-50 to Maryknoll, the top seed this week.
“I think if we play the way we are supposed to we might be able to take them,” Iwata-Bartelme said.
Naylor has coached two Maui High teams to state semifinals – in 1998, the Scott Prather-led Sabers beat two-time defending state-champion Moanalua, and in 2003, a loaded squad that included Gene Rivera finished 28-1.
Prather and Rivera, former MIL Players of the Year, have been among a group of players Naylor has coached who have been at Na Alii’s practices in the last couple of weeks.
Iwata-Bartelme is the only nonsenior starter – the rest of the first five comprises Jacob Havron, Gabe Gunter, Jansen Agapay and Alroy Ferreira.
“There’s a little bit (of pressure), but, I mean, we’re all confident after being at the state tournament last year,” Gunter said. “We know what it feels like, especially winning that first game. It is still a big deal for our school. It definitely gives us confidence.”
The last two summers have been filled with titles in Mainland tournaments, all with this week in mind.
“That’s a great question, are you ever totally prepared?” Naylor said. “Our whole idea is, our preparation is to work hard. Our preparation is to play like a team, our preparation is to be together, to be on the floor and do all the things that nobody notices more than another team will do that.
“Loose balls, take a charge, all the 50-50 balls, we have been saying that all year long. Our goal is to hold teams to the 30s with our defense. If we can do that, we are going to win some ballgames.”
Gunter said his personal goal is the same one his teammates have.
“For me, it is just doing whatever it takes to put this team in the best position to win,” he said. “Whether that’s rebounding, scoring, I have to be there.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com