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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, March 22, 2000

R A I N B O W _ B A S K E T B A L L

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Recruiting rough
for Rainbows

Misconceptions about the state
keep many from giving the UH
men's basketball team
a chance

By Pat Bigold


How far off the coast of Florida is Hawaii?

Do they live in grass shacks out there? Will I get killed by a volcano?

Hard to believe, but these are some of the questions the University of Hawaii's men's basketball team coaches say makes recruiting on the mainland even more difficult.

Hawaii dearly needs to replace a point guard and a center to make the 2000-2001 season competitive.

But this is a Division I basketball program unlike any other in the NCAA.

It must recruit out of state exclusively most years because the islands are not a breeding ground for top-level collegiate talent.

"That means you have to go into somebody's state and beat them for a kid," said Rainbows assistant coach Scott Rigot. "Those are kids who grow up going to a camp at the local university or who've known the coach for five or six years."

Look at SMU, Oklahoma, Kentucky and other Division I programs with rosters composed primarily of in-state recruits, Rigot said.

"Here, there's literally nobody," he said. "There appears to be one kid every seven to 10 years. I don't see how you can change that. The island has a different melting pot from the rest of the U.S. You don't have many Eastern Europeans who are big, strong guys. The African-American population is not overwhelming.

"Ironically, head coach Riley Wallace said the best teams he's coached in 13 years at Manoa have been ones with locally bred players in key contributing roles. He said having homegrown talent in the starting lineup seems to promote a closer bond with the community, and that translates into bigger crowds, more energy and more wins.

"They've increased attendance and made things more exciting because they have a tendency to love their team a little more," said Wallace.

But beating the bushes to find a Jarinn Akana, a Kalia McGee or an Alika Smith is a rare accomplishment out here, and not something a recruiter can depend upon.

Separated by an expensive five-hour plane ride over water, the university's recruiters find themselves facing other disadvantages mainland recruiters don't face.

During periods when recruiters can not visit recruits but recruits can make unofficial visits to campuses, the Rainbows really lose out. Mainland recruits cannot afford repeated, casual exposure to the Manoa campus due to geography.

"Float the island in to about where Catalina is, and we'd have the No. 1 program in the world, with all the beauty and the people we have," said Wallace, who's managed to win 199 games in his tenure here.

The Rainbows have earned four NIT berths and one NCAA berth in that time.

Hawaii assistant coach Jackson Wheeler said he's found that students throughout the United States seem to pay scant attention to geography, and that makes the job harder for Hawaii recruiters.

"I've had some far-out ones," said Wallace. "I had a kid from Sacramento, and his grandmother had never been anywhere in her life. Didn't know anything outside of her small community. There are demons in Hawaii. Volcanoes erupt, and grandma's scared to death he's going to burn in a volcano flow."

Wallace said that rival recruiters sometimes plant misconceptions in the heads of recruits who know nothing about the state.

"They'll say anything," said Wallace. "The latest one I've come across is that they say there's racism in Hawaii. But I tell the kid, is there racism in California? Is there racism in New York? There's racism everywhere you go. It's what you make of it."

Wallace spends most of his staff's efforts on recruiting junior college players because the top 100 prep recruits are almost always out of reach.

Even UCLA's leading scorer, Jason Kapono, who has Hawaii ties, refused to even consider the Rainbows.

"He wanted a bigger program," said Wallace.

A story in the latest Sports Illustrated relates how the talent level of junior college players has risen dramatically in recent years.

But Wallace has been on the trail of JC players like Anthony Carter since he arrived at the Manoa campus as head coach.

"We can get a talented junior college player, who if he had grades out of high school, we probably wouldn't have been able to get him," said Wallace.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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