Hawaii Prep usually makes its living on the basketball court with its defensive length and patience on offense, where a good shot is always an open one.
But the height healthy Ka Makani can throw a few other things at opponents this season: athleticism with the ability to run the court and enough depth to keep starters fully charged.
HPA showed all of its strengths in a 49-38 win over Roosevelt in the first round of the Waiakea-Keaau tournament on Wednesday at the Cougars Gym.
Matija Vitorovic scored 11 points while Jonah Hurney, Michael Hanano, and Michael Hughes each added eight points to lead last season’s BIIF Division II runner-up Ka Makani, who didn’t make it easy on themselves with second-half defensive lapses.
Micah Visoria tested HPA’s perimeter defense with three long-distance bombs for a game-high 13 points to lead the Rough Riders, who finished 3-7 in the OIA’s East division, which included HHSAA Division I champion Kahuku.
Roosevelt worked the ball inside and eventually got within 45-39 with 35.5 seconds left before HPA snagged rebounds and eliminated second-chance shots to hold on for the win.
However too often, HPA’s help-side defense arrived late and driving lanes were wide open. On the other end, the half-court offense struggled against Roosevelt’s man defense with spacing issues and lack of movement.
“When they had their streaks going, we got quiet,” Hurney said. “We need to communicate more. All five need to clear out, get rebounds and minimize turnovers.
“We’re long, young and can run. We like to take small goals, go game by game. Maybe it’s our year or maybe it’s not, but we’ll give 110 percent.”
The good news is each problem is easily correctable, and coach Fred Wawner’s team still found other ways to score.
Hurney, Umi Kealoha, and Javan Perez each dropped in layups in the second half. Hurney and Vitorovic also splashed 3-pointers in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
In the first half, HPA shredded Roosevelt’s zone defense with nice post passing or dribble-drive assists. Ka Makani’s different defensive looks — man and zone with that great length — forced the Rough Riders into tough shots, and they couldn’t find a rhythm.
Vitorovic is a 6-foot-4 junior who becomes an instant shot blocker when he raises his arms. Hanano, Kealoha, and Hughes are all 6 feet, long, and lanky. All of them clog passing lanes and contest entry passes.
Hurney is the primary ball-handler, but he has help from freshman KJ Walker, who’s 5-10 and two inches taller than the senior point guard.
HPA has experience with Vitorovic, Hurney, Hanano, and Kealoha as returning starters. Kealoha and Javan Perez, who’s got a quick trigger when shooting off the dribble, saw major minutes as freshmen last year. It’ll be the same thing with Walker.
“Umi and Javan are older and stronger, and we need them to score,” Wawner said. “They’re explosive young guys and will help on both ends of the floor. They give us the athletes that we need.
“KJ has a high basketball IQ. He’s ready to be playing on the varsity as a ninth grader. He’s earned the right to be in the mix for playing time regardless of his grade.”
But it’s the old guys who carry the torch.
“We’ve got a great culture, and that starts with our seniors Michael Hanano and Jonah Hurney,” Wawner said. “Our core is our three C’s: concentrate, communicate, and compete. If we do those things every time, we have a chance to get better. They police that for us in the locker room, in practice, and at games.
“Last year, we had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop. We had solid defense, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to score with the ball. Defense is where we create our identity. It’s the same stuff. We want to take away the paint, make people shoot over us, rebound the ball and be efficient on offense.”
Hurney is a valuable playmaker with the ability to attack the rim, fire from long range and dribble-drive to create clean shots for teammates, especially Vitorovic, who is being counted on to be a three-level scorer.
Last season, Vitorovic had a fondness for launching 3-pointers and made more than his fair share. But with the lack of a pure post offense, HPA needs him to hit mid-range shots and score in the paint to space the floor.
For a defensive anchor, Wawner looks at Hanano, who’s got the grit to guard bigs and tall forwards.
“Matija a skilled guy, but we need him to score and be consistent every night,” Wawner said. “Hanano is a tough guy, and he’s our best defender. He’s a sparkplug. He’ll dive for balls and set the tone for the team.”
The Rough Riders and Ka Makani also threw a press at each other. In the first half, that ball pressure got HPA a few easy buckets. In the second half, Hurney easily dribbled away from trouble to get the press-break offense in gear.
“I feel that handling pressure is about a mix of skills and confidence,” Wawner said. “In our league, it’s going to come every night. You have to be prepared and ready for it. It doesn’t go away. You have to go out and execute.”
Another tradition at HPA is that the team chemistry is always strong. And Wawner found a connection to the school’s last BIIF title in 2013.
“The exciting thing about our club is the guys like each other, play together and want to get better,” he said. “We haven’t had this kind of depth since the last time we won the title.”