Thursday, March 15, 2001
From Fab FiveDAYTON, Ohio -- There was a time when the NCAA men's basketball tournament was a playoff to determine the best team in the nation; sometimes not even that, depending on who played in the National Invitation Tournament, which was just as prestigious.
Hawaii's associate head coachBy Dave Reardon
looks back on the Rainbows' first-ever
NCAA Tournament appearance,
when he was a player
The office pool was a place to take a dip if you worked for a very generous company. Dick Vitale was a coach, not a shouting head.
And there was no Selection Sunday show.
"I think they did it by Pony Express back then," said Bob Nash, speaking in the lobby of the North Dayton Holiday Inn yesterday, as the University of Hawaii associate head coach took a break from preparations for tomorrow's first-round game with Syracuse and reflected on 1972.
"We finished our season and sat around waiting for that bid to come in," Nash said. "It was just an exciting feeling that we were going to have a chance to play in the tournament. It was a great way to cap off a great career."
That's when Nash wore an aloha-attire uniform and an Afro. And every rebound was his.
That's when the Rainbows got their first NCAA bid, a simpler time when March Madness was a much more moderate case of dementia, the Big Dance a mere medium sock hop.
Nash said he was "a rebounding specialist" -- he still holds school single-season (361) and game (30) records for boards. But he was much more: The best player of the Fabulous Five, the two-year phenomenon by which all UH hoop teams are measured. Every true UH fan easily remembers every name: Nash, John Penebacker, Al Davis, Jerome Freeman and Dwight Holiday, and that of the coach, Red Rocha.
They finished with a 47-8 record and their love affair with the state intact, despite an embarrassing 91-64 drubbing by Weber State at Pocatello, Idaho.
Nash had 10 rebounds, but didn't help a 31 percent team-shooting effort by going 3-of-16 and finishing with 10 points.
But the 6-foot-8 forward from Georgia didn't stay down for long.
"He had an excellent Aloha Classic very shortly after," said Rocha, referring to Honolulu's defunct annual pro prospect showcase. "He knew he had to go into that strong, and that's what he did. That's why he went in the first round (of the NBA draft). That made it easier to get over the tournament loss."
The Aloha Classic MVP award helped Nash become the seventh overall pick, by Detroit. After three years with the Pistons, he played 17 games for San Diego of the ABA, two years for a team in Sweden and returned to the NBA for two seasons with Kansas City.
After his pro playing career, Nash returned to UH, earning a degree in education in 1984.
He married a local girl. The former Domelynne Lum was a Rainbow cheerleader when Nash played for Hawaii.
He had also fallen in love with the state of Hawaii. Nash makes it sound simple.
"I made a decision to come to Hawaii to go to school and prepare myself for my future. Hawaii helped me accomplish those things. So when I looked for a place to raise my kids and live my life, Hawaii is the place I chose," Nash said. "My mom (Dora Lumpkin) lives in Hawaii, my brother (Terry Nash) lives in Hawaii. All my ties are in Hawaii. That's home, and there's also great support on my wife's side."
Nash does go back to Georgia regularly, taking his daughter Erika and son Bobby to visit Bob's 94-year-old grandmother, Nellie Freeman.
Hawaii head coach Riley Wallace said Nash's family ties are indicative of his character and priorities. And they extend beyond his blood family to the university and Hawaii in general.
"He cares about UH -- actually, the entire state," Wallace said. "He's very loyal and supportive to me. He's very trustful and trustworthy."
And industrious and versatile.
Nash's responsibilities include scouting, film breakdown, game preparation and skills coaching. He also helps with players' academic progress, scheduling and itineraries.
Through it all, the former fierce rebounder maintains a calm demeanor and dry sense of humor. He is at once a successful players' coach and company man.
"I like him because he is patient but serious," said senior forward Nerijus Puida, who credits Nash with helping him improve his shooting this season.
"He is good at finding out what you need to work on and showing you how to do it."
The personalities of Wallace and Nash seem a perfect combination.
"Every guy has a second man that keeps the good-cop, bad-cop theory going," Nash said. "We're both good cops to begin with. Sometimes he's a little more strongly animated in what he's trying to get across than I am. I kind of come in and smooth over the rough edges. Sometimes he has to be the good cop and I gotta be the bad guy. ... We've been together a long time (13 years). I respect his ability to run the team and he respects mine to make appropriate calls."
Speculation abounds that when the 59-year-old Wallace retires, Nash, 50, will replace him.
Like any coach, Nash has his fans and detractors. But his commitment to the program is unquestioned. Neither is his intensity, though it's been a long time since he let nothing get between him and a ball coming off the rim.
"I guess competitiveness was what brought his intensity about," Rocha said.
"He's such a competitor that the thought of being beaten individually or as a team is impossible to understand or handle. I think that was his driving force."
Ask Nash who would win a game between the Fabulous Five and today's Rainbows, and you get many dimensions of the man; the fiery competitor, the proud coach and the thinking diplomat.
"Fab Five, no doubt," he replies quickly. "Nah, as a coach, I love this (current) team. I can honestly say this year's team is probably more exciting than when I was playing. This team never stopped working, and here we are. It's the most rewarding thing I've experienced as a coach.
"It would probably be a very close game. The Fab Five was quicker and more athletic. Davis was smooth, Holiday could guard anyone, Freeman was a great penetrator and Penebacker was so versatile.
"But this team shoots better. If you make the mistake of trying to put more effort into stopping a (Troy) Ostler or a (Predrag) Savovic, a Mike McIntyre or a (Carl) English or a Mindaugas (Burneika) will step up and bite you. It would probably go overtime."
Ka Leo O Hawaii