Returnees ensure Hawaii starts ahead of last year
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.”