By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
With a young, talented nucleus and enough athletes to play a suffocating press that terrorizes opponents, Hilo High School could be the team to beat in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I boys basketball race this season.
The Vikings have played well at times during the preseason while building a 5-1 record. Head coach Jason Mandaquit has constantly shuffled his 13-man roster to give his players valuable game experience. That strategy to build confidence in guys coming off the bench could pay off, especially with Hilo hit by a couple of injuries.
Mandaquit said starting junior guard Jalen Carvalho and junior forward Hoku Mattos will sit out action this week and hopefully return for the Big Island Interscholastic Federation regular season in January. Earlier this week in practice, Carvalho, a high-scoring 6-foot-2 southpaw, injured his foot while the hustling Mattos hurt his elbow.
“They’re disappointed, but like I told the rest of the team, maybe this is a blessing,” Mandaquit said. “We need other guys to step up and contribute. Our goal remains the same no matter who we put on the court: We want to be as competitive as we can be.
“We know all the games count and the state seedings committee considers preseason games, too, and who you played. We’re hoping everything we do helps us in the long run.”
Carvalho has been Hilo’s leading scoring in the preseason, hitting line-drive 3-pointers, pull-up jumpers and drives to the basket. He’s also one the team’s better rebounders and a key in the Vikings’ full-court press.
Mattos has come off the bench with the second team and played well.
“We’ll miss them both,” Mandaquit. “But we’ve got 11 other guys ready to step up and do the job.”
Carvalho and fellow junior Jodd Carter, a multitalented 5-9 guard, have been Hilo’s most consistent scorers in the preseason. They’ve started each game along with juniors Drew Kell and Austin Dante, with the fifth spot occupied by either seniors Kamu Patnaude or Jacob Genegabus, or junior Isaac Kaleiwahea.
“I’m confident with eight guys in our rotation,” Mandaquit said. “Most of our guys have been in the program three years and they understand what we’re trying to do.”
If Carvalho and Mattos return in top form, the Vikings have enough firepower and defensive intensity to make Hilo the top BIIF title contender this year and one of the better young teams in the state.
Last year, the Vikings finished runner-up to league champion Kamehameha-Hawaii and earned a state tournament berth. This year, Hilo wants to keep improving, win the BIIF and return to the states.
“Our first goal is to clinch a state berth,” Mandaquit said. “Then if we can accomplish that, we’ll think about the BIIF (title).
“Of course, our major goal is to win a state championship.”
But to have a shot at any one of those three goals, the Vikings need to be healthy and get solid contributions from everyone on the team.
Kell, a 6-0 power forward, provides the Vikings with strong rebounding and defense, and he’s gaining confidence on offense.
Dante, a 5-10 point guard, runs the offense and when opponents back off or try to double up on Hilo’s dangerous shooters, he can drain the 3-pointer or knife into the open gap and find the open man.
Patnaude, a 5-9 forward, is a demon on defense and also has provided the young Vikings with an offensive spark when the offense struggles.
Patnaude is one of three seniors on Hilo’s potent squad. The others are 5-10 Genegabus and 5-11 Kian Kurokawa.
Both Genegabus and Kurokawa can rebound and defend bigger players, and both can score consistently from mid-range or deep in the paint. Kaleiwahea can play small forward or help handle the ball if necessary, and he’s quick on defense.
Also expecting to contribute key minutes this season are juniors Faaaliga Fuiava, AJ Matsumoto, Isi Holani and Mike Williams.
Last week, the Vikings went 3-1 in the Waiakea/Keaau tournament, with their only loss to highly touted Kalaheo from the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
This week, the Vikings host the eight-team Larry Manliguis Hilo High Holiday Classic at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium. The three-day event runs today through Saturday.
In first-round games today, it’s Kohala vs. Keaau at 3:30 p.m., Baldwin vs. Waiakea at 5 p.m., Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Pearl City at 6:30 p.m. and Hilo vs. Hanalani at 8 p.m.
“It’s a good tournament and we’re happy to have Walter’s Electric as our main sponsor,” Mandaquit said. “We’ve got three outer island teams in the field and it should be a good experience for all the teams.”
Mandaquit is trying to play in as many preseason games as possible. Next week, the Vikings will participate in the prestigious Iolani Classic on Oahu.
The BIIF season starts in early January and Hilo is expected to get its strongest challenge from Konawaena, with rival Waiakea, Kamehameha, Kealakehe and Keaau in the mix and looking to pull off surprises in the battle for the D-I crown.
Mandaquit is assisted this year by Kyle Keamo, Mark Lee and Eddie Kalima, Jr.
Tourney notes: The late Larry Manliguis, who coached the Vikings for over two decades before passing away in 2007, led Hilo to two state titles (1991, 2000) and numerous BIIF crowns during a highly successful stint with the school.
Larry followed his older brother, Al, as the Vikings head coach. Al coached Hilo for 28 years and led the team to one state crown (1964) and many BIIF titles as the school was a perennial state contenders for years. Al also had two teams — 1967 and 1973 — that finished state runner-up.
Under both Manliguis brothers, the Vikings were famous for their full-court press and high octane offense.
Kohala vs. Keaau, 3:30 p.m.
Baldwin (Maui) vs. Waiakea, 5 p.m.
Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Pearl City (Oahu), 6:30 p.m.
Hanalani (Oahu) vs. Hilo, 8 p.m.
Note: On Friday, consolation games are scheduled at 3:30 and 5 p.m., with the semifinals at 6:30 and 8 p.m., respectively.
On Saturday, the seventh place game will be played at 2 p.m., followed by fifth place at 3:30 p.m., third place at 5 p.m. and championship at 7 p.m.