The World Youth Basketball Tournament series began with the hope of bringing top-tier competition to the Big Island.
Boasting a roster of past participants that includes Dwight Howard, Josh Smith and Mario Chalmers, it’s safe to say the tournament has achieved its goal.
“When we started this we wanted to make it so Big Island teams didn’t have to travel to get exposure or good competition,” said tournament organizer Christy Gladstone. “It’s so funny when the teams come here and realize how good the teams actually are.”
The WYBT Makahiki Hou Invitational — a winter event created exclusively for high school teams — picked up with some close matches Saturday at Kekuaokalani Gymnasium.
New Zealand and Hawaii Preparatory Academy battled it out in the tightest game of the day, with Ka Makani squeaking out a 46-45 victory.
Despite the loss, the effort by the New Zealand team — one that, because of injuries, played with no substitutions — spoke volumes about the character of the players.
“We really had to try to control our fouls,” said New Zealand head coach Tai Upoko. “In New Zealand they are a lot more lenient on the contact allowed, so we have had to adjust. We like to play that in-your-face basketball, but today we had to hold back a bit.”
HPA was led by a 13-point effort from Collin Yates. Talented New Zealand big man Jorge Tagaloa had 16 in the loss.
New Zealand’s five-man squad was forced to take the court after a short break against Honokaa. While exhausted, the Kiwis kept up a good pace against the Dragons, but ultimately fell 59-54.
Shyrome Batin led Honokaa with 26 points — 20 of those coming in the second half.
“Competition is what this tournament is all about,” Upoko said. “Giving the kids an opportunity to play teams from Hawaii and abroad has been great. They love it.”
Maranatha (Calif.) lost a close game against Konawaena Friday night, but rebounded Saturday against Honokaa, downing the Dragons 59-54.
Maranatha center Channon Fluker missed the majority of the fourth quarter against Konawaena with foul trouble, but was able to stay on the court to make a huge impact against Honokaa. Fluker tallied 19 points and 33 rebounds in the win.
Chancis Fernandez led the Dragons with 15 points.
Honokaa bounced back with a 49-31 win against Mulgrave (Canada) later in the day. Mulgrave was hampered by free-throw troubles, converting on only 4-of-21.
Rosehill Christian (Texas) breezed past Kealakehe 46-22 behind 14 points from McKenna Powers. Sophina Kalavi led Kealakehe with 12.
Sage Hill (Calif.) improved to 2-0 for the tournament with a hard-fought win against Honokaa. Tyler Hague led the Lightning with 17. Honokaa’s Cjay Carvalho had a game-high 19 in the loss.
The Konawaena girls closed out the day with a 68-20 blowout win over Mulgrave. Sophomore Chanelle Molina sat most of the second half, scoring 18 of her 24 points before halftime.
Flo Belanger-Jones led Mulgrave with 10.
Even with the great competition the series provides, Konawaena and head coach Bobbie Awa have lost only two games in the history of WYBT competition.
“My goal is always to find a team that can beat Bobbie’s girls,” joked Gladstone.
The tournament takes a break today and concludes Tuesday.