By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Michael Silva’s love for basketball led him to a back-and-forth journey to St. Joseph, where the 5-foot-4, 149-pound senior guard is in the best shape of his life — quite an accomplishment considering he was 61 pounds heavier a year ago.
He wasn’t part of the last season’s new-look Cardinals, who finished in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II standings with an 0-12 record, including a 54-13 loss to Kohala in the first round of the playoffs.
It was the first year without Sebi Ohara-Saft and Thomas Fairman, a pair of All-BIIF first-team picks as seniors when Hawaii Prep sneaked past them in the semifinals 43-42 in 2012.
As sophomores, they helped St. Joe seize the BIIF title in 2010, the school’s first since 1974. The next year, the Cards made a second consecutive trip to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament.
It’s a tough rebuilding project when a small school like St. Joe has an enrollment of less than 50 kids. The job is made no easier when most of the team’s roster of 10 players has little to zero basketball experience.
But if anyone in a Cardinal uniform needs a motivational push, they can look at Silva, a model of persistence.
As a freshman he weighed 207 pounds and tried out for St. Joe. He was cut, one of the few to not make the varsity for a program always in search of extra bodies.
He transferred to Hilo the next season, made the junior varsity, but at 200 pounds got glued on the bench.
Silva said he was unmotivated and didn’t try out for the varsity or play any other sport as a junior last year at Hilo. He weighed 210 pounds, the heaviest in his life.
Then he transferred back to St. Joe for his senior season, and something changed.
“Seven months ago, I decided to join the military and get in the best shape of my life,” Silva said. “I did cardio, ran, did weight training. Two months ago I signed with Army. The commitment to the diet was the hardest part.
“When I looked at an old picture of myself and a current one, I was proud and realized how much I changed. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to join the military. I’d watch action movies when I was a kid.”
Silva plans to serve four years, then major in criminal justice in college to become a federal enforcement officer, either in the FBI or DEA.
He’s goal-oriented not only in his career, but also his time on the court.
“I try to bring hustle,” he said. “I want to be the guy that fights for rebounds, dives on the floor for a loose ball. I may not be too good offensively, but you can always hustle.
“The fact that people said I couldn’t do it drives me. I was picked on a lot, the first kid at St. Joe to not make it, being at Hilo but not playing much on the JV. I wanted to show people that I could do it. I’m just persistent.”
When St. Joe co-coach Mike Scanlan looks at Silva’s frame, he doesn’t see someone with a lack of height, but rather a muscular bulldog with a big heart.
“He gives us another ball-handler,” Scanlan said. “He’s really aggressive at times. He brings a toughness to the team.”
World Series glory
Edgar Barclay, a 5-7 senior forward, had a simpler journey to becoming a starter. He was home-schooled as a freshman, played volleyball for St. Joe as a sophomore, and joined basketball last season as a first-time rookie.
He made a name for himself during the summer. He was the pitching ace for the Hilo ballclub that qualified for the PONY World Series for ages 13-14 in Washington, Pa., where Barclay fired a no-hitter but took a 3-1 loss to Virginia.
St. Joseph is a private school and doesn’t offer baseball. Barclay is ineligible to play ball at another school. Only student-athletes at public charter schools are eligible to play a sport not offered at their school.
Still, he decided to attend St. Joe instead of a neighboring school that offered his favorite sport. He pointed to education as the biggest reason.
“When I joined the team, we all became pretty close,” said Barclay, who hopes to land a baseball scholarship. “We work hard together and have good team chemistry. I hope we make it to states and win more games than we won last year.”
If you’re a good detective and wondering how a St. Joseph senior could play for a 13-14 age-group team, there’s a simple answer: He skipped two grades.
“We don’t usually give kids time off for other sports, but we allow him to be seen at showcases,” Scanlan said. “He comes to practice and works hard. He and Ben Uhlmann are in the gym every day trying to get better.
“He’s supposed to be a sophomore. He works hard as he can and never complains. He’s one of those kids who will run through a wall for you.”
Uhlmann, a 5-11 senior, is the team’s Swiss Army knife. It’s not unusual for him to defend the post in St. Joe’s 2-3 zone, rebound, dribble up the floor and run the offense. Whether the Cards score or not, he’ll repeat his heavy-duty routine.
Another returning starter is Koa Galves, a slender junior who provides a bit of athleticism. Cole DeSilva has emerged as a scoring threat. The sophomore scored 21 points, nailing five 3-pointers, in a preseason win over Ka‘u.
“We’ve got one year under our belt with pretty much the same team,” co-coach Ron Masulit said. “Cole is our best outside shooter. He’s vastly improved his skills. It’s been fun seeing the improvement from last year to now. It’s been a big leap. We’ve had some nice compliments from other coaches during summer play.
“We’re not very big, so we have to play well off each other. I knew last year we would take our licks. We had to take that with a grain of salt. The idea this year is to try to win some games and get into the four-team playoffs. Everything is up for grabs, until somebody is crowned the champion.”
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of BIIF basketball previews.
Next up: Kohala, Tuesday