Youth basketballers take the court

PUHI — For 13-year-old Gavin Toyofuku, a chance to play against competition from off-island is a chance to evaluate and better himself as a basketball player.

“It’s a different caliber of players,” Toyofuku said, who will be a freshman at Kauai High School come fall. “Just play as a team and work hard.”

Young hoopsters from around the state, and some from the Mainland, congregated to Kauai for the seventh annual Merv Lopes Hoops Classic.

A total of 37 teams comprised of middle school and high school players are taking part in this year’s tournament. Kauai High, Island School and the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center hosted the four-day event.

“For us, this Merv Lopes (tournament) is about getting our kids more exposure to other talent that’s around the state,” said Team Central Basketball coach Stephen Pascua. “We’re so used to competing with kids on Kauai. We wanted to expose them to other teams around the state.

“A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to travel. It’s even better for us when they do come to Kauai,” he continued. “We just try to develop the young kids.”

Local club Papalina played in Thursday’s opening game at the Island School gymnasium against Oahu’s Dream Hoops Elite in a Division 3 (intermediate) game.

Papalina shot out to a 18-6 lead at halftime, but DHE closed the gap with 11 unanswered points early in the second half.

DHE cut the lead to three with a minute left on the clock, but Papalina held on to win, 42-36.

“I think we expected them to come out in the second half and be super aggressive. They kind of pressed us,” said Papalina coach Clyde Vito. “We just had to weather the storm. We knew they were going to foul us. We just had to take care of the ball, make free throws and play defense.”

“Every year, it’s getting bigger and better. (TCB coach Clarence Sales) and his crew, they do an excellent job. I’ve been through several other tournaments off-island. This is actually one of the better organized tournaments,” Vito added, who is also a coach for Kauai High’s varsity boys basketball team. “The facilities are nice. Good quality teams are coming down. I think it’s a good opportunity for the Kauai teams to see those other teams that, unless they get a chance to travel, don’t get to see.”

Team Central then played the following two games. It’s Division 3 team lost to Court Kings of Oahu, 40-22.

Team Central’s Division 2 (junior varsity) team then lost to Imua-Orange of Maui, 54-21.

“We always tend to have our kids play up. Our first game was our 13-and-under, but we had sixth and seventh graders. (The second game) was our 14-and-under, but we got seventh and eighth graders. We had no ninth graders,” Pascua said. “We knew it was going to be tough, but that’s what makes them better.”

Pool play continues today. The first at Island School tips off at 9 a.m. Kauai High’s first game starts at 10 a.m.

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