Like the annual tournament it hosts in the winter, ‘Iolani’s boys basketball team is prepared to measure itself against the best teams in the country.

The Raiders have earned a spot in Section 7, one of the nation’s premier summer basketball tournaments, which features approximately 229 of the country’s best high school basketball teams, although most are primarily from the West Coast. Every game will be played in State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Twelve courts will be spread across the stadium to accommodate all the teams in the event.

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‘Iolani is the first team from Hawaii to compete in the event.

The tournament runs from Thursday to Sunday. ‘Iolani will open on Friday against Arizona powerhouse St. Mary’s, which boasts point guard Styles Phipps, considered one of the state’s best players. The Raiders will play twice on Saturday and once on Sunday for a total of four games.

The opportunity for the Raiders came about when head coach Ryan Hirata reached out to Chaminade associate head coach Kyle Milligan and was put in touch with Matt King, the tournament’s director. Once approved, the Raiders began planning for the trip in the spring.

“Just like we tell the players every time they step on the court, this is a great opportunity not only to represent yourselves, but also to represent ‘Iolani school and the state of Hawaii,” Hirata said. “Whether we win or whether we lose, I want them to go out there and just play as hard as they can. There’s gonna be 330 college coaches there ranging from Division I, II and III. This is an opportunity where you catch somebody’s eye, you make a great hustle play, you’re gonna get an opportunity to play in front of coaches that may give you the opportunity moving forward in your future and again, I’m just excited for these kids to be able to do this.”

Because of the timing of the tournament, ‘Iolani is bringing just 10 returning players from last season’s team that have played “a couple” of summer league games on Oahu, according to Hirata.

“Every team that we play against in this tournament is gonna have at least two or three guys that are on the Division I radar,” Hirata said. “It’s gonna be a challenge, especially size, athleticism, speed, so we got our work cut out for us, but that’s why you go and travel. You wanna go against the best and see where you’re at. Even though we’re gonna be considered underdogs in every game that we play, there’s a certain standard where we’re gonna expect our guys to go out there and battle.”

As for college talent on ‘Iolani, 6-foot-2 sophomore point guard JJ Mandaquit turned heads as a freshman during the 2021-2022 season and is believed by many to the best player in the state, regardless of class, heading into the 2022-2023 season. He currently holds offers from Portland and Chaminade, but like the rest of the players in section 7, he’ll have the opportunity to garner the attention of a variety of coaches in attendance this weekend.

“Looking forward to it a lot. We’re the first team from Hawaii to play in this tournament so we’re going up there to represent the state and no matter how big or fast and athletic and skilled the teams are going to be, we’re going to battle every possession,” Mandaquit said. “Ultimately, we just want to show that Hawaii kids can hoop too and hang with the best high school teams on the West Coast.

“It’s a lot of the exposure and it’s just great for us to be able to play against some of the best competition.

“The goal is to just represent Hawaii the right way, play basketball the right way, and if we play with energy, effort and grit, the wins and success will come.”