Wright On: Manliguis brothers created basketball legacy worth remembering

  • 89 year-old Al Manliguis.

Theirs will be a legacy that lives whenever high school basketball on the Big Island is discussed. It is the sort of thing you cannot imagine being replicated by a succession of coaches that will send their teams out to compete in decades ahead in the new gym at Hilo High.

It’s a needed and new facility that houses team necessities, locker rooms and offices for staff members of the athletics department. Everything’s better in the facility, but there should be a way to turn the page toward the future without ignoring the rich history of the past.

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That should never happen anywhere, especially at Hilo High School, which was, if you go back far enough, the only public school on the east side of the island, one whose numbers kept growing and growing and whose athletic teams kept winning and winning.

For most of that, the school was strongly represented in boys basketball by the Malinguis brothers, Al and Larry, who combined to coach a stretch of 48 consecutive seasons, winning three state championships over that time, two by Larry, who passed in 2007, one by his older brother Al.

It is time, if not past the time, for the school to recognize the Manliguis brothers in the most appropriate fashion, by naming the new facility after these two whose names carried the Vikings to prominence for a longer period of time than anyone might have imagined.

Is it a gym? An Arena? A Fieldhouse? Coliseum seems a little puffed up, but if you put the Malinguis name in front of gym, Arena, or Fieldhouse, it would fit like a comfy old shoe, for the best of reasons.

“We had a group of kids who played hard, they had to in order to make the team,” said the 89 year-old Al Manliguis one day last week, looking like he had just come from a practice. “There was a time before they built Waiakea, that, if you were going to play basketball, it was going to be at our school, or St. Joseph, one or the other.”

In the late 1950s, Hilo High would get as many as 150 youngsters showing up for basketball tryouts, numbers that propelled interest in the sport and made the players pay attention to their coaches.

This is a school that has now been open for 112 years, and a full 43 percent of those years featured a boys’ basketball team that was coached by someone whose last name was Manliguis. The brothers came with a certain style they each understood.

In a 2007 article by Paul Honda in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, that followed the passing of Larry, his approach was described as “Passionate without losing his cool,” a trait he learned from his older brother, for whom he played for two seasons and later succeeded as coach at Hilo High. “Manliguis coached what he preached,” Honda wrote. “Hilo’s two state crowns and 11 Big Island titles under Manliguis carried the same theme that brought an extra bounce to players and fans alike: full court pressure and uptempo offense. “

That was the imprint Al created and passed on, having learned the full court press and uptempo approach from Ung Soy “Beans” Afook, who had coached at Hilo High and later coached Al at the University of Hawaii before Al returned to the Big Island and took the Vikings’ basketball opening.

But Al Manliguis didn’t just teach what he remembered from Afook, he was always traveling to the mainland for coaching clinics where he learned the intricacies of the defense, the soft spots, the big advantages when played properly.

“It was complicated,” Manliguis said of his full court pressure defense. “When you see the press run the way it should be run, it looks like a lot of chaos out there, like a wild scramble, but it takes a lot of understanding by those players to be in the right position to create that chaos after the basket is made.”

He was not the intimidating figure of Afook, who wore darkened glasses and was able to enforce his style based on a certain level of fear he could instill in his players. Manliguis was the opposite, he wanted conversations and understandings, but make no mistake — he knew what he wanted and he wouldn’t settled for a lesser substitute.

“He was an inspiration to me,” Manliguis said of Afook. “he was a disciplinarian, but really, he was teaching life, how to deal with life.

“I used to come to practice from Onomea where we were living, and Beans had these 7 a.m. practices on Sunday. During the week, there was enough traffic that I could always (hitchhike) a ride, but it wasn’t so easy on Sunday and one time I was about 10 minutes late.

“He called me over,” Manliguis said, “and asked me if I knew what time practice started. I said I knew, and he asked what time it was now. I told him it was about 10 minutes past 7 and he said, ‘Are you sure you want to play basketball?’ I said, ‘Yes, Coach, I am sure.’

“He said if I showed up on time I might get a chance. I was never late again.”

As a coach, he had his own approach, but there was no give and take in terms of certain fundamentals in his techniques.

He recalls instructing the full court press one preseason when an assistant coach approached Manliguis with a concern.

“He told me, ‘You better abandon this press, these guys can’t do it,’” Manliguis said. “That really got me. I told him, ‘Don’t ever tell me ‘They can’t do it,’ they will do it — it’s your job to teach it, now you need to go instruct them — do it.’”

They became the kind of team that Oahu schools and administrators saw as a threat, an outsider challenge. He still bristles when asked about the 1968 state tournament.

“Back then, they only allowed eight teams in and they had us playing St. Louis, which they had ranked No. 1,” he recalled. “I mentioned to them, ‘Oh, so I guess we’re seeded eight? That seems a little low, but they said, no, that they ranked the top four and the others were picked randomly.

“I just looked at them,” he said. “Then I said, ‘Like hell that was random.’”

The game bears little resemblance these days to the way it was played when the Manliguis brothers coached at Hilo, but it still captures his attention at the collegiate level.

“Most coaches will tell you, (on offense), ‘The ball goes in the middle’ and you work your offense off that, pass goes in, comes out and that’s the action of the offense, but now it’s different. We never had a 3-point shot, and the traveling they allow today? The palming of the ball you see so much? We could never get away with that, and I wonder now, if it might be time to raise the basket about six inches, it would be a big change, but so was the 3-point shot.”

It’s a legacy that will never be erased, with Al winning 19 BIIF championships, and brother Larry adding another 11 — that’s 30 conference titles and three state championships from one family at one school.

The past should not be forgotten, it should be emblazoned in a prominent location out front on that new basketball facility at Hilo High School.

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And when someone asks, “Who was Manliguis?’ they will hear a story that can’t imagine ever happening again in any public school, anywhere.

Comments and suggestions for future columns should be sent to barttribunehearld@gmail.com

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