BIIF boys basketball: 2-time D-II champ Waiakea embraces new reality

  • Kiai Apele was one of the heroes for Waiakea in the 2017 BIIF Division I championship game win against Konawaena. Apele will be asked to take on a larger role this season. (TIM WRIGHT/Hawaii Tribune-Herald

For the glass-half full crowd, it’s the dawn of a new era for Waiakea boys basketball.

For those inclined to see a glass as half-empty, hard realities must be confronted.

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The Warriors likely won’t be able to count on any more miraculous finishes this season, and they definitely can’t bank on Calvin Mattos anymore.

During a Saturday morning practice at the school gym, coach Paul Lee continued to take stock of which players he can rely on as the preseason beckons.

“That’s what these guys don’t understand,” he said, “you’ve got to work twice as hard as everybody else because even though we lost our whole team, everybody is still going to be gunning for us, because we’re still the defending champs.”

Mattos, the three-time BIIF Player of the Year, and miracles went hand in hand. He scored, he facilitated, he took pressure off everyone else and he hit big shots, such as the 3-pointer that tied the 2017 BIIF championship game against Konawaena in the waning seconds.

Then, lighting struck. Kiai Apele snagged an inbound pass, made a layup, the buzzer sounded and Waiakea stole a BIIF Division I repeat.

It was magical.

But – with seven other players gone in addition to Mattos – is it sustainable?

“That’s the tough part, we’re going to have to depend on everyone,” Lee said. “Calvin could pretty much broke the press by himself. Now we have to see who is going to step up and be able to deal with situations that they never had to deal with before.”

One player resuming a familiar role is 5-foot-11 senior Jaden Opiana, who provides a rebounding and physical presence on the inside.

Opiana agreed with his coach. The Warriors still have a bull’s-eye on their back, and the only recipe for success is to grind away.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “We know what we have to do and how to get there. I’m pretty sure with the hard work and the dedication that we have, we can do it.”

Forget about trying to replace Mattos’ ball-handling abilities with just one player. Apele, a 5-8 sophomore with a high basketball IQ, and Jerek Prudencio, a 5-9 junior and one of the team’s best shooters, will have a chance to make an impact in the backcourt.

Lee made sure to get Apele seasoning last season just for this occasion, and Prudencio matched Mattos in the finals last season with 16 points.

Waiakea also hopes to use its length to its advantage.

“We’re mostly focused on our defense and fastbreaks, and we’re doing a lot more reps of everything,” Opiana said. “We have more height this year, so we definitely can rely more on rebounding.”

Will Soares, a versatile 5-11 junior, is also slated to start and Waiakea is boosted by the return of 5-8 senior Noah Tominaga, who started last season before being hampered by injury. Lee is also intrigued by two other inside options he can blend into the lineup, 6-3 junior Peter Suiaunoa and 6-0 freshman Elijah Blankenship.

Lee calls 5-11 junior Jonah Tominaga one of the team’s most improved players.

“Everybody is going to have to do their role for us to be competitive,” Lee said. “A lot of trial and error.

“Hopefully we can figure out a rotation in the preseason.”

This is Hawaii high school basketball, so the Warriors will have an ample number chances to build chemistry during a preseason that lasts longer than the regular season for some BIIF teams, Waiakea included.

First on tap is the Keaau-Waiakea Boys Basketball Tournament, which runs Wednesday through Saturday and features off-island teams Seabury Hall, Roosevelt, Mid-Pacific and Kaiser; the Warriors scrimmage Kailua on Dec. 6 before entering St. Joseph’s Cardinal Classic; they’ll play at Hilo’s tournament in mid-December before flying to Oahu to play at St. Francis’ tourney and a chance to play Punahou, Lee’s pick for the best team in the state.

All the while, Lee hopes to prepare Waiakea for what he sees as a riveting race come January to get into the BIIF Division I semifinals.

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“This is going to be a really good year,” Lee said. “I think Konawaena and Kamehameha are just above everyone else. Then you have Hilo, Kealakehe, Keaau and us, who are all very similar.

“Really competitive, and hard to get into that top four. Any of the top six can get into the top four.”