By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
At 6-foot-4, Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s Jovan Crnic towers over most of his defenders. But it’s more his skill set, court vision and competitive spirit rather than his height that makes him one of the best point guards in the state this year.
In simple terms, the multitalented Ka Makani from Croatia understands how to play the game of basketball and he showcased his all-around abilities on Wednesday night in a 41-37 win over the host Warriors in the first round of the Waiakea/Keaau Boys Preseason Tournament.
Crnic, a senior with college potential, had a game-high 19 points to go along with six assists and eight rebounds as HPA held off the young Warriors in the late game.
In other games Wednesday at the Warrior Gym, Kalaheo topped Hilo 58-43, Kealakehe ran past St. Joseph 54-13 and Honokaa downed Waiakea 2 50-37. Four first-round games were also played at the Keaau Gym. The four-day, 14-team tournament runs through Saturday.
In consolation action today at Waiakea, St. Joseph battles Waiakea 2 at 3 p.m. and Hilo meets Waiakea at 4:30 p.m. In the winners bracket, it’s Honokaa vs. Kalaheo at 6 p.m. and HPA vs. Kealakehe at 7:30 p.m.
The defending Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II champion Ka Makani, under coaches Fred Wawner and Dave Huntington, started strong, racing to an 11-0 lead before Waiakea senior Owen Sandstrom drained a short jumper with 2:48 left in the first period to snap the hosts out of an offensive sleepwalk. Then Warrior junior guard Bryson Ita hit a long 3-pointer and junior forward Lucas St. George scored on a putback to pull the hosts to within 14-7 at the end of the first period.
St. George, a 6-3 junior, opened the second quarter with a 10-foot jumper to make it 14-9. But the composed Crnic answered with a momentum-shifting 3-pointer and after St. George scored inside, the Ka Makani point guard added a nifty 13-foot jumpshot to give the visitors a 19-11 advantage. HPA led 19-15 at the intermission.
The Ka Makani lead grew to 22-15 on Kama DeSilva’s layup with 5:40 left in the third period. However, Ita, the little junior guard who could, drilled three straight 3-pointers against the HPA’s zone to lift Waiakea on top 24-22 at the 3:06 mark.
Crnic interrupted a 10-0 Warrior run with a free throw to make it 25-23. But Ita struck again with another long trey to give the hosts a 28-23 advantage. Junior guard answered for the Ka Makani with a layup in the final minute to cut the Waiakea lead to 28-25. However, Sandstrom was hammered on a move under the basket and calmly sank two free throws with :04 remaining the in the quarter to extend the Warriors’ margin to 30-25.
HPA picked up its defensive intensity to start the fourth period and junior guard Kalan Camero and junior Kenji Stinson scored on layups off transition to tie the score at 33-33. Crnic hit the second of two free throws to lift the Ka Makani back on top, at 34-33 with 4:16 left. Then the crafty Croatian point guard scored on a layup on HPA’s next possession to make it 36-33.
At 1:29, Crnic was fouled and made one of two free throws, then added two more charity shots with :24 left to stretch the Ka Makani lead to 39-33.
Junior Maaka’i Gahan was fouled at :15 after the Warriors missed a pair of trey attempts. He sank both free throws as Waiakea closed to within 39-35. But Crnic answered with two more free throws with :06 remaining to make it 41-35.
Gahan hit a 10-foot jumper right before the buzzer to make the final score 41-37.
Crnic was the only Ka Makani in double figures. But he was HPA’s main focal point with the ball, whether in transition when he found open shooters or in the half-court sets when he attacked off the dribble.
“Jovan did some good things,” Wawner said. “We were trying to get out in transition to get some easy baskets. I thought he did a nice job running the floor and we missed some shots that hopefully we’ll make as the season moves ahead.”
Huntington credited his inside defenders, seniors DeSilva and Sefa Rocha-Tufaga, with containing the athletic St. George and hustling Sandstrom.
“It’s only the first game, but I thought we did some good things defensively tonight and rebounded pretty well,” the coach said.
The Ka Makani play physical and with Crnic handling the ball and enough perimeter shooting to beef up the dangerous offense, they should challenge for their second straight league title and a return trip to the state D-II tournament on Oahu this season.
Ita led Waiakea, under co-coaches Henry Miranda and Eric Yoshimura, with 15 points, on five treys. Gahan had eight points and St. George six.
HPA 14 5 6 16 — 41
Waiakea 7 8 15 7 — 37
• Kalaheo 58, Hilo 43: Josh Ko and Derick Morgan each scored 15 points and Kulei Zuttermeister had 13 to lead the defending state D-II champion Mustangs to a hard-fought win over the Vikings. Junior Jalen Carvalho led Hilo with 15 points.
Kalaheo, under coach Alika Smith, led 29-22 in the first half. But the Mustangs then outscored the Vikings 29-21 to pull away in the second half.
Kalaheo 18 11 11 18 — 58
Hilo 13 9 8 13 — 43
• Kealakehe 54, St. Joseph 13: Malu Akiona had 12 points and Deion Utrera 11 to lead the Waveriders past the young Cardinals.
Kaena Nahoopii led St. Joseph with six points.
The Waveriders led 20-0 after the first period and 37-4 at the intermission.
St. Joseph 0 4 7 2 —13
Kealakehe 20 17 10 7 —54
• Honokaa 50, Waiakea 2 37: Alika Alip scored 15 points and Keanu Freitas 11 to lead the Dragons. Jeffrey Tomas had 11 and Kyler Kua-Ramires nine for the Warriors.
Honokaa led 16-14 at the half, then outpointed the hosts 32-23 in the second half.
Waiakea 2 8 6 11 12 — 37
Honokaa 4 12 15 17 — 50
Honokaa 50, Waiakea 2 37
Kealakehe 54, St. Joseph 13
Kalaheo 58, Hilo 43
Hawaii Prep 41, Waiakea 37
Waiakea 2 vs. Hilo, 3 p.m.
St. Joseph vs. Waiakea, 4:30 p.m.
Honokaa vs. Kalaheo, 6 p.m.
Kealakehe vs. Hawaii Prep, 7:30 p.m.
Kohala 45, Keaau 2 12
Konawaena 63, Pahoa 45
Kamehameha-Hawaii 60, Kalani 41
Ka‘u 37, Keaau 31
Keaau 2 vs. Pahoa, 3 p.m.
Kalani vs. Keaau, 4:30 p.m.
Kohala vs. Konawaena, 6 p.m.
Kamhameha-Hawaii vs. Ka’u, 7:30 p.m.