At 6-foot-4, Hawaii Prep’s Jovan Crnic was versatile enough to play any position on the basketball court. But it was size, leadership and keen ability to pass the ball that helped Ka Makani capture their second straight league title.
Crnic, an exchange student from Serbia, played point guard and often found his teammates for wide-open 3-pointers or easy layups in Ka Makani’s halfcourt sets or in transition. But if you slacked off Crnic, he could drain the long trey or take the ball to the basket and throw down a vicious dunk.
His all-around play this season helped Hawaii Prep fight past Pahoa 64-39 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division II championship game and then finish third for the second straight year in the state Division II tournament on Oahu. Ka Makani fell by two points to eventual champion St. Francis in the semifinals before Hawaii Prep ran past Seabury Hall of Maui 76-52 in the third-place game.
A year ago, Crnic led Hawaii Prep to its first BIIF Division II basketball title. This year, the multi-talented senior raised his level of play and the balanced Ka Makani responded with their second consecutive league crown.
For his all-around performance, Crnic was named West Hawaii’s Player of the Year through voting of the league coaches.
“Jovan did a lot of good things for Hawaii Prep,” Konawaena coach Donny Awa said. “But it’s when he got everyone else involved that they became a really dangerous team. In our two close games against Hawaii Prep, it was the other guys — Kalan Camero, Buck Thomas and Kama DeSilva who stepped up and helped keep them close.”
Ka Makani co-coach Fred Wawmer agreed.
“Jovan’s growth as a player was great this year,” Wawmer said. “He already had the physical tools to be successful, but we asked him to sacrifice and do a lot of other things that helped make the team better. Jovan did a nice job of getting everybody involved and created a lot of opportunities for them.
“He really met the challenge this year. He showed a lot of leadership — he was vocal in a positive and supportive way with his teammates. He just did a lot of good things for us.”
Crnic wants to play college basketball, and he’s looking at his options right now where his game may take him.
The Hawaii Prep standout is joined on the all-West Hawaii first team by Konawaena’s Kenan Gaspar, Kohala’s Kalai Salis Kapeliela, Kealakehe’s Deion Utrera and Honokaa’s Alika Alip.
Gaspar, a 6-0 senior guard, was one of the BIIF’s most dangerous 3-point shooters. But when his opponent took away the trey, he still had a nifty pull-up jumper or could score on his darting drives. He also played well in the Wildcats’ stingy defenses.
Kapeliela, a 6-0 senior point guard, was a deadly 3-point and free-throw shooter. His leadership at the point and in running Kohala’s share-the-ball offense were critical in the Cowboys’ success, and his quick hands in the team’s full and halfcourt defenses was a valuable tool that helped produce turnovers.
Utrera, a 5-9 senior point guard, was the quickest player in the league. His ability to hit the 3-point shot or attack the defense off the dribble were vital to the Waveriders’ offensive production. He was also one of the BIIF’s most clutch performers and capped a steady four-year career with a rock-solid senior season.
Alip, a 5-9 senior point guard, was a potent threat with the ball — able to make the trey, the pull-up jumper or drive and dish to open teammates. His leadership and all-around play on offense and defense were keys to the Dragons’ success this season.
The all-West Hawaii second team includes Honokaa’s Keanu Freitas, Konawaena’s Brandon Awa, Jonah Bredeson and Nick Mims, and Kohala’s Kealen Figueroa.
Freitas is a 6-0 senior who could play inside or out for Honokaa, and he often had to battle taller opponents inside as the Dragons’ top rebounder. He also could score from the perimeter and gave the Dragons a spark with his all-out hustle on defense.
Awa, a 5-11 junior point guard, was extremely quick and terrorized opponents with his drives to the basket or in finding open teammates when the defense collapsed on him. He also had a steady perimeter shot, and his aggressive defense helped create turnovers that turned into easy baskets for the league champion Wildcats.
Bredeson, a 6-0 junior guard/forward, gave Konawaena a productive scorer, rebounder and defender. When both Bredeson and Gaspar were scoring, the Wildcats were unbeatable in the BIIF. But Bredeson’s versatility and smart play were valuable all league season and into the state tournament.
Mims, a 6-0 senior, used his athletic ability and potent 3-point shot to fit perfectly into Konawaena’s system. His hustling style often sparked the Wildcats, and he had a knack for coming up with the clutch basket, rebound or defensive play.
Figueroa, a 5-8 sophomore guard, provided the Cowboys with solid ballhandling and scoring, and quickness in Kohala’s pressure defense. The young Cowboy also played within his abilities, and that added to his value in coach Don Fernandez’s team-first system.
There was a tie for the West Division Coach of the Year honor. Hawaii co-coaches Fred Wawmer and Dave Huntington shared the award with Konawaena’s Donny Awa.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Awa said. “We struggled a little in midseason, and then everyone came together, and we won the league with an undefeated record.”
For Wawmer and Huntington, it was their second straight BIIF title while establishing Ka Makani as one of the top Division II programs in the state.
“We had a great group of guys this year who believed in the process from start to finish,” Wawmer said. “The kids were receptive and worked really hard so that we could have a great year.”