Re­turnees en­sure Hawaii starts ahead of last year

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By BRIAN MCIN­NIS

In Year 1 of the Eran Ganot era of Hawaii bas­ket­ball, the Rain­bow War­riors re­turned plenty of tal­ent but had to spend much of the pre­sea­son learn­ing new schemes from a brand-new coach­ing staff.

The coaches were es­tab­lished in Year 2, but NCAA-in­duced ros­ter turnover meant an­other whole­sale ed­u­ca­tion process for a to­tally re­built team.

Year 3 has been an­other first — in that coaches and play­ers started from some­where other than Bas­ket­ball 101 when full prac­tices rolled around al­most two weeks ago.

End-to-end sprints, a con­se­quence of play­ers’ inat­ten­tion to de­tails, have been rel­a­tively few.

“I think nat­u­rally we’re ahead of where we were at this point last year,” Ganot said after a re­cent prac­tice. “I’ve talked about the bal­ance, too, be­cause there’s four (schol­ar­ship) new­com­ers.”

Yes, there is a ma­jor­ity of re­turnees (10) from last year’s 14-16 (8-8 Big West) squad, but Ganot — ever the cau­tious type — noted that guard Drew Buggs and for­ward Mike Thomas missed most 2016-17 prac­tices red­shirt­ing while re­cov­er­ing from in­juries.

“What we’ve seen is mak­ing sure we don’t fast track it too much where we lose some guys, and make sure we don’t fast track it too much where there’s slip­page in terms of the de­tails,” he said. “We want to con­tinue to progress but (are) mak­ing sure we do it re­ally sharp.”

The play­ers have made use of the prover­bial whet­stone on most prac­tice days so far; Ganot thought five of the first six were pro­duc­tive, with the ex­cep­tion a dull ef­fort in swel­ter­ing Klum Gym last week.

Thomas, the fifth-year se­nior cap­tain, has been the most dom­i­nant player in prac­tices, but each front­court re­turnee has had his mo­ment. The for­wards and guards have ro­tated to dif­fer­ent units in drills, al­low­ing the coaches to even­tu­ally de­cide which of the var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions work best for the Nov. 10 sea­son opener vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff. They’re not there yet. “We know what ev­ery­body needs to im­prove and work on,” sopho­more cen­ter Ido Flaisher said. “We’re help­ing each other. Gib­son (John­son) is some­times help­ing me and telling me stuff, be­cause he’s older than me. I can learn from him, from the oth­ers, from coaches. I’m giv­ing other big men help too. We want each other to get bet­ter. This is some­thing unique. I’ve never seen this be­fore, be­cause in other places, ev­ery­body just wants for them­selves to get bet­ter.”

Flaisher, of Is­rael, has no­tably im­proved in both his English and his con­di­tion­ing from his promis­ing but un­even fresh­man year (3.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg in 10.6 min­utes per game).

“This sum­mer I started do­ing more weight room,” he said. “I went up at first, and now I lost a lit­tle weight (to 232). Now I can dunk bet­ter, run bet­ter, I can breathe re­ally good. I’m in the best shape of my life.”

Im­proved fit­ness is true for sev­eral re­turnees, in­clud­ing Buggs, who had to sit and watch most prac­tices last sea­son while in ex­tended re­cov­ery from a knee in­jury.

“Just re­ally ex­cited to get out there and play with that Hawaii on my chest, and be able to rep­re­sent it in a pos­i­tive man­ner,” said Buggs, who also shook off a mi­nor shoul­der in­jury from the first day of full prac­tice Sept. 29. “We feel like we have a re­ally good team this year. We got a lot more peo­ple re­turn­ing this year, so we’re a lot more co­he­sive. Ev­ery­body’s ex­cited to get out there and show what we can do.”

That in­cludes the new­com­ers, like Kahuku High grad­u­ate Sa­muta Avea. The bouncy, 6-foot-6 Avea could be asked to re­place a lit­tle of what All-Big West first-teamer Noah Allen gave UH on the wing last sea­son.

“I’m just grateful for the op­por­tu­nity,” Avea said. “Try to come in with a chip on my shoul­der, to prove my­self that I be­long here and just work as hard as I can day in and day out to just get bet­ter, ev­ery day.”

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