Pupualii Sepulona of Saint Louis repeats as Player of the Year

Mar. 24—On a cool, overcast Sunday morning, the outside courts at Kalakaua District Park is where Pupualii Sepulona finds sanctuary.

On a cool, overcast Sunday morning, the outside courts at Kalakaua District Park is where Pupualii Sepulona finds sanctuary.

"This is actually my stomping ground. This is where I put most of my work in year after year, after basketball practice at Saint Louis. Get some shots up over here, all the unseen hours of hard work, " he said. "The manapua truck. I used to run here after school, me and my friends, and get chicken and rice. Pork hash."

The world around him constantly changes, but Sepulona grows from within.

The process was a furnace. League play was a gauntlet. Saint Louis endured tougher competition en route to a state-championship three-peat and, in the end, Sepulona emerged as the Star-Advertiser Boys Basketball All-State Player of the Year for a second year in a row. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior was a force in every aspect of the game, averaging 15 points per game despite swarming defenses.

"He's a real difference-maker. As a coach, you have to game-plan around him. I don't really believe in double-teaming in our style of defense, but it's kind of pick your poison with Pupu, " Leilehua coach Chad Townsend said. "If you don't double, he'll iso you and make you pay. Or he'll get his teammates involved. He has that quality where other players stepped up because Pupu made them better."

Crusaders coach Dan Hale enjoyed seeing his team grow in every aspect.

"This year, Pupu really expanded his game. He was able to step up and do things other than scoring. His leadership really shined as he was able to involve everyone on the team in offense, " Hale said. "He also showed up in rebounding and playing team defense so that our team could realize its potential."

With Saint Louis chasing a third straight ILH title and a three-peat of the state championship, every defense went out of its way to hinder the powerful, explosive playmaker. For a while, the tactics seemed to work.

The Crusaders lost to Division II powerhouse University early in preseason. During the ILH regular-season, Saint Louis went 7-3, tied with Maryknoll for second place, behind 9-1 Punahou.

Sepulona never changed course, and neither did his teammates. Rather than seek a different route, the Crusaders went all in on their championship tenets. Defense. Teamwork. Efficiency. With Sepulona and his team moving the ball, cutting hard to the basket and locking down defensively, Saint Louis achieved its three-peat.

When they needed a clutch bucket, Sepulona was there on the block to punish defenses that had to abandon double-teaming game plans. He was there at the elbow swishing the 15-footer. He was there in the corner for the occasional 3-point splash. Taking charges on defense. Pulling down crucial rebounds, a man among boys in the trenches.

"He's tough to guard. He's got a better outside shot (this season ), strong inside. He's just hard to move, " Mililani coach Garrett Gabriel said. "You've got to be strong. That's why they won three in a row. Everything they do is team. They've got individual talent, but the team concept will win every time."

Sepulona did not lead the ILH, let alone the state, in scoring. However, his evolution set the tone on a squad of high-IQ contributors, including All-State point guard Shancin Revuelto.

"This year, I was more unselfish. Everybody knew our schemes, what we were running, so we had to change it up, " Sepulona said. "Last year, everybody didn't know us. They didn't take us seriously, so that's why we shocked the whole state. This year, everyone on our team contributed and knew their role. I didn't average that much points, but overall, the whole team got rewarded for being a leader out there. I give all the credit to my team, my boys."

Mid-Pacific coach Robert Muroda-Shklov summed it up.

"Pupu is selflessly relentless, " he said.

The POY voting was closer than usual. Punahou's leading scorer, James Taras, was No. 2 in the voting, while Leilehua's sharpshooting senior, Wilson, landed at No. 3.

Taras emerged as a major force as a senior, averaging nearly 16 points per game. His varied offensive skill set boosted Punahou to the state final.

Wilson was a key contributor last year as a junior, the Mules' second-leading scorer at 12 ppg. This season, coach Chad Townsend urged Wilson to take command. Wilson responded with 20 ppg in league play, leading Leilehua to its first OIA championship since 1988. Wilson was particularly en fuego in the playoffs, with 31 points against Kailua, 25 against Mililani in the league final.

He poured in a season-high 32 points against Kahuku in the state quarterfinals before Punahou limited Wilson to 17 points in the semifinal round.

Coach of the year voting was close, Hale was first in the balloting for a third year in a row after guiding the Crusaders (27-5 ) to a state championship three-peat. Townsend was voted second, followed by Kohala coach Kihei Kapeliela and Punahou coach Darren Matsuda. Nate Donnell (Nanakuli ), Greydon Espinda (Kaimuki ), Scott Prather (Seabury Hall ), Muroda-Shklov (Mid-Pacific ) and Mea Wong (Kamehameha-Hawaii ) also received votes.