By BILL O’REAR & KEVIN JAKAHI
Eddie Bento, who led St. Joseph to the Big Island’s first Hawaii High School Athletic Association basketball title, died Jan. 25 in Mission Viejo, Calif. He was 72.
He was a 6-foot-4 1/2 senior when the Cardinals defeated Saint Louis 53-50 in overtime for the Territorial basketball tournament in 1958 at an overpacked Hilo Civic Auditorium. (Hawaii became a state the following year.)
Bento scored a game-high 20 points in the championship game and was the leading rebounder. The physical contest was close all the way and St. Joseph held off the Saints from Oahu behind late clutch free-throw shooting from composed Cardinal Eugene “Buzzy” Capellas.
St. Louis was led by star guard Jim Naniole and Jim Aiwohi. The versatile 5-9 Naniole returned to coach the Honokaa Dragons in the 1980s and had a highly successful run in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation.
St. Joseph was coached by the legendary Walter Victor and his five starters were Bento, Capellas, Al Souza, Paul Martin and Leslie Hao. Capellas went on to coach Hilo High in baseball for many years and won a state title in 1985.
The Hilo Tribune-Herald selected Eddie Bento as the tournament’s most outstanding player. Other BIIF players named to the all-star team were St. Joseph’s Capellas and Hilo High’s Roy Tanimura. The Vikings finished third, beating Punahou 57-38 for the honor. They were led by Larry Manliguis (18 points), Tanimura (10 points) and guard Gil Tomas against the Buffanblu.
The Cardinals finished the season with a 24-1 record against prep competition, according to the late Bert Nakaji, the former Hawaii Tribune-Herald sports editor.
Eddie Bento’s younger brother, Arlen, was a junior on the title team. Also on the squad were Harold Sideran, George “Peewee” Kai, Mike Vincent, Tony DeSa and Richard Wittington. Victor was assisted by Adam Carvalho and Al Ignacio. William “Cowboy” Ahuna and Joe Pete Costa were team managers and Bill Wittington the trainer.
“It was a special team that first started playing together when we were all 10 and 11 years old under Coach Victor,” Arlen Bento said. “It was destined to be a great team — the best St. Joseph ever had.”
In “Sports Dirt,” Nakaji’s sports column, he said the gutsy win over St. Louis stamped “St. Joe as the greatest and undisputed high school champion of the Territory.”
Many of the basketball oldtimers in Hawaii considered Bento as the “most outstanding high school basketball player prior to Statehood.” He was known for his scoring ability — fueled by a soft perimeter touch — and tough rebounding.
Bento played basketball at Loyola Marymount University on scholarship from 1959-62. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1986. He was an all-conference player for three years and led the Lions to their first conference championship in 1961. He was also named LMU’s most outstanding basketball player four straight years.
In his senior season, LMU came to the Big Island and defeated the University of Hawaii in a game in Hilo, according to Arlen Bento.
“My father used a 16-milimeter camera to tape both the Territorial championship game and the LMU game,” said Arlen, whose father, Eddie Sr., was at one time the Hawaii County Fire Chief.
Bento ranks 11th in career scoring with 1,435 points. He scored 579 points to lead the conference in scoring during the 1961-62 season, his senior year with 24.1 points per game.
He was picked in the eighth round of the NBA draft in 1962 by the Cincinnati Royals, now the Sacramento Kings.
Eddie and Arlen Bento grew up in the Villa Franca area near downtown Hilo.
“We would play outside and shoot tennis balls in a used coffee can that we nailed up on a pole,” Arlen said. “Eddie developed unbelievable tough and by the time we got to high school, he was the nucleus of the team. He was a one-of-a-kind player who could shoot left and right hook shots, and he could really shoot from outside.
“Al Igancio once told us that a lot of players could shoot shots, but Eddie was one who could make shots.”
But Arlen said his older brother was more than a star basketball player.
“He was a good all-around kid, an all-American boy,” Arlen said, adding with a chuckle, “I was the kolohe one.”
Arlen calls his brother “the best postman to ever come out of Hawaii and go on and play college.”
“He could do it all,” Arlen said.
Eddie Bento eventually became a businessman in Southern California. He is survived by his wife Pamela, two sons, two daughters, sisters Gail Bento and Karen Andrade and brother Arlen Bento; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial mass for Eddie Bento will be held Feb. 23 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Papaikou. Visitation will start at 10 a.m. with a mass to follow. A prior service was held in California for the family.