Meet Hamilton’s new 7-footer: How Sage Tolentino went from Hawaii to southwest Ohio

Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

HAMILTON — His journey from Hawaii to Hamilton is longer than he is tall.

And that’s saying something.

You may have seen him walking around downtown or the hallways of Hamilton High School. He’s hard to miss, this kid named Sage Tolentino.

He’s a 210-pound, 7-foot junior at Hamilton High and a member of the Big Blue basketball team. He scored a team-high 18 points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked three shots in Hamilton’s first game, a 64-55 win over Mount Healthy, to start his presence in local prep basketball.

Tolentino has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University after having offers from Cincinnati, Kansas, and Tennessee State with growing interest from Kentucky, according to media reports.

Auburn will be the next step in what has been quite the roundball ride for this Hamilton Globetrotter. His select basketball teams have played in China, Tahiti, Las Vegas, California and Texas.

Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

As a dominant player on the islands, Tolentino caught the attention of Kai Sotto, a 7-foot-2 center from the Philippines. Sotto joined East West Private management company, a group that specializes in counseling parents of standout athletes.

Sotto, heavily recruited by Auburn, signed to play in the NBA’s G-League instead of playing college basketball. Tolentino’s parents, Grant and Becky, sought the advice of the company.

It appeared Tolentino would remain at Maryknoll High School this year and try to lead the team to a three-peat state championship, but all sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus.

“It was rough over there,” Tolentino said about the COVID-19 shutdown.

So the family flew to Atlanta in the summer with plans for Tolentino to play for the Skills Factory, a junior NBA team.

When that plan fell through, the family moved to Cincinnati and Tolentino began training at Griffin Elite, a basketball training program in Erlanger, Ky. During the summer he trained daily with East West Private players at Prasco in Mason.

While Tolentino practiced, he attended school remotely, but the six-hour time difference between Ohio and Hawaii created too many scheduling issues, his parents said.

So they inquired about Tolentino attending school in Hamilton.

For that, Hamilton Coach Kevin Higgins is thankful. He hadn’t heard about Tolentino enrolling at Hamilton until he showed up one day, a coach’s dream, a modern day 7-footer who blocks shots, handles the ball well and is accurate from 3-point range.

“Shocked obviously,” Higgins said when asked his reaction. “You don’t get kids like him coming out of nowhere to go to your school.”

Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Higgins said Tolentino is fitting in well with his teammates, but it may take most of the season to figure out the best way to use his skill set. Higgins said his teams traditionally are guard heavy.

“You can’t overhaul your system in one month,” Higgins said. “With him, we will experiment, trial and error. By the end of the year, we’ll see what works well for us.”

Tolentino said he has “good chemistry” with his teammates on and off the court.

“I’m goofy and like to have a lot of fun,” he said. “But on the court, I like to play and be aggressive, be an animal.”

Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Caption
Sage Tolentino, a 210-pound, 7-foot junior from Hawaii is playing basketball for Hamilton High School this season. Tolentino ended up in Hamilton after sports in Hawaii were cancelled due to the coronavirus. He has verbally committed to play college basketball for Bruce Pearl at Auburn University. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Tolentino, listed as a four-star center by Rivals, helped lead Maryknoll to back-to-back state championships, despite the team losing five seniors after his freshman season.

Last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game and was a first-team all-state selection and Defensive Player of the Year in Hawaii.

But he realizes playing in the basketball-rich Greater Miami Conference will be more challenging than in Hawaii where his tallest opponent was 6-foot-4.

“Players here are better,” he said.

There’s another difference between Hawaii and Hamilton. There are no pictures of snow on Hawaii’s postcards.

Tolentino said this week was the first time he had seen snow.

“I love it,” he said. “It was fun playing in it. Really cool for me.”