Paul Isotani Jr. is just 5 feet 3 and is easy to overlook because of his size. But that’s not the reason why he stands out on the basketball court.
The freshman guard is an assassin in sheep’s clothing. He might be the last player chosen in a random pickup game. But once he starts firing deadly catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the perception changes.
It’s no longer who’s the little guy for St. Joseph, which will host its annual Cliff and Kathie Dias Cardinal Classic on Thursday.
It’s how does Isotani fire his shots so fast. Well, as soon as he catches the ball, he’s already in triple-threat position and ready to launch bombs once he catches the ball.
Hina Kimitete, a Konawaena graduate, who played at UH-Hilo, was one of the BIIF’s fastest catch-and-shoot gunners. Isotani could be her next-door neighbor. The ball is almost like a hot potato to him. He catches it, and then it’s quickly gone.
With a sharpshooter like Isotani, there’s always hope for the Cardinals to repeat their 2016 miracle comeback with a barrage of bombs. That year, they trailed Honokaa by 18 points at halftime but pulled off a 51-50 win for the BIIF title and staked a claim to the greatest comeback in hoops history.
Last season, Honokaa eliminated St. Joe 68-57 in the BIIF Division II semifinals. The Cardinals hit just 4 of 20 from 3-point range.
Isotani almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat at the Keaau/Waiakea tournament last week against Pahoa, which didn’t have a scouting report on him. Otherwise, the Daggers would have face-guarded him a little tighter in their 51-46 win.
He swished four straight free throws with three minutes left, then dropped two 3-balls, the last to cut Pahoa’s lead to 48-46 with 5.6 seconds left. Paea Taliauli scored, got fouled and hit his free throw to close out the Cardinals.
So who is Paul Isotani Jr.?
“He’s one of the few members on our team who plays club ball,” St. Joseph coach Linden Villena said. “He’s one of those guys who gets overlooked because of his stature. He needs to work on his catch-and-shoot because of his height. Even though he’s a freshman, he’s not afraid to take that big shot. His No. 1 strength is his competitiveness.”
What Isotani didn’t do against Pahoa was create his own shot, taking a defender off the dribble, hitting a fadeaway, or pulling a crossover. It’s not as if Isotani lacks the ball-handling, it’s just that he was overlooked by the Daggers.
The cat is sort of out of the bag. But Villena will game plan plays for Isotani, who’ll be the No. 2 guard. The time-sharing point guards are sophomore Evan Costales and freshman Jayden Villena, the coach’s son, who’s got solid court vision.
Dylan Costales and Siam Thomas, a pair of seniors, are returning starters at guard and forward. Nathan Faletoi, a sophomore forward, is the other starter in the post. Jonathan Eftink, a sophomore forward, serves as a much needed sixth man.
Eftink took a pair of charges against the Daggers, and the bench exploded for good reason.
“He plays his heart out at practice, and he competes with our No. 5 (Faletoi) so that helps him get tough,” Villena said. “We need good minutes out of him, especially if Nate pick up early foul trouble. He’s our next big man up.
“He took the first charge of our preseason. That’s what we’ve been asking them, to sacrifice your body when a guy comes down the lane. That’s why the bench exploded, and I think he took two charges in that game.”
Thomas serves as an ironman, logging a lot of minutes, rebounding and working in the paint on both ends of the floor.
“I like Siam’s rebounding and stamina. He can last a long time without me pulling him. And he doesn’t commit bad fouls, so I can leave him in a long time. He’s one of the guys I counted on in the offseason to get everyone to come to strength and conditioning. The whole 12 came during the offseason. Dylan is a no fear, go to the basket, and shoot with no hesitation type of guy.”
St. Joseph doesn’t have the bench to get into running contests with other teams. Like every other year, the Cards need to play smart defense, guard tough but not too close to pick up fouls.
“We’re preaching patience and defense on offense and defense,” Villena said. “We want them to be disciplined, run the clock and limit possessions. If we run the clock, good things will happen.”
The Cardinals are hoping that the ball winds up in Isotani’s hands and is quickly fired for another 3-pointer.
“As a shooter, Paul does love to handle the ball,” Villena said. “But now, guys are bigger, stronger, and faster. We’ll have to run him through screens and set plays to get shots for him. He’s a fast catch-and-shoot guy.”
Hilo vs. HPA, 5 p.m.
Kamehameha vs. Saint Louis, 6:30 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. Honokaa, 8 p.m.
HPA vs. St. Joseph, 5 p.m.
Honokaa vs. Kamehameha, 6:30 p.m.
Saint Louis vs. Hilo, 8 p.m.
Hilo vs. Honokaa, 1:30 p.m.
Saint Louis vs. HPA, 3 p.m.
Pahoa vs. Kamehameha, 4:30 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. Hilo, 6 p.m.
Honokaa vs. Saint Louis, 7:30 p.m.