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Sunday, November 9, 2003



[ UH BASKETBALL ]


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RONEN ZILBERMAN / RZILBERMAN@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Julian Sensley, a Kalaheo alumnus, has been called the "best catch" of the recruiting season. The power forward transferred from junior college.


Julian Sensley is just glad
to be in uniform again


THERE WERE DAYS when Julian Sensley considered walking away from the game that had been the source of his greatest joy growing up.

As a youngster in Kailua, Sensley was seemingly destined for basketball greatness and was one of the nation's most celebrated high school prospects after successful careers at Kalaheo High and St. Thomas More School in Connecticut.

But just as his dream of playing in college was within reach, the doors suddenly shut and Sensley was left with the frustration of not having an outlet for his talents.

"I went through a phase where I just didn't want to do anything," Sensley recalled. "I was even thinking about not playing basketball and just coming back home and getting a job somewhere.

"But when I thought about it, it would be a waste of everything I went through."

Rather than abandon his ability and experiences, Sensley found his way to Los Angeles Community College, where he earned an associate's degree, and now finds himself days away from suiting up for his first Division I college game as a member of the Hawaii basketball team.

The Rainbow Warriors play an exhibition game against Brigham Young-Hawaii on Nov. 17 and open the regular season against UC Santa Barbara four days later.

After three weeks of practice with the Rainbows, Sensley is still working to integrate himself into the team's offensive and defensive sets, but he has already blended into its social fabric.

"I'd seen him around before, I knew him as a person off the court and knew he was a good guy," UH senior Michael Kuebler said. "He's just always trying to have a good time. He's always cracking jokes, he's real fun guy to be around."


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RONEN ZILBERMAN / RZILBERMAN@STARBULLETIN.COM


At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, Sensley gives the Rainbows a boost in athleticism and the ability to create mismatches on the floor.

He's showed off his potential for the spectacular during practices by swooping to the basket for powerful dunks. But he's also displayed sharp passing skills that allowed him to be among the team's assist leaders in its intrasquad scrimmages.

"He mixes in well," said senior co-captain Phil Martin. "On the court, he's not trying to be All-World. He distributes the ball, he sees the floor real well and puts the ball in the hoop."

Both the Sporting News and Lindy's magazine rated Sensley as the nation's top power forward coming out of junior college this season. Lindy's also listed him as the "best catch" of the recruiting season.

When Sensley takes the floor for the Rainbows, it will be the first time since he left Kalaheo in 1999 that his mother, Susanne Karsten, and brother, Max, will get to watch him play in person.

Following his junior season at Kalaheo, Sensley made the move across the country to finish high school at St. Thomas More. He committed to play his college ball at California, but later found that he wasn't eligible as a freshman. He later surfaced at Iona and Fresno State but didn't play at either school.

He also entered the NBA Draft briefly, but withdrew his name in time to maintain his college eligibility.

"It was kind of hard because you have so many people you trust, different people think they know what's right for you," Sensley said.

"So you had to grow up quick. I was listening to all the wrong people and I really just had to sit down and think about what's best for me and my family."

He realizes his nomadic existence created questions in the minds of those outside the situation, but said his journey was fueled by a desire to play.

"A lot of people thought I was a bad kid or hard to coach," he said. "What it really was I just wanted to go some place where I could play. ... At that point I was so desperate I didn't care where I played. It was just being in a uniform and suiting up to play."

After a year away from organized ball, he settled at Los Angeles CC last year and became eligible to play this season by earning his associate's degree.

He averaged 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Cubs and initially signed with San Francisco. But the call of the islands led him to request a release from his letter of intent and he enrolled at UH this semester.

"I just got real homesick, and I just wanted to come home and play," he said. "I knew this would be the perfect place."

With the season opener swiftly approaching, Sensley is still trying to adapt his game to coach Riley Wallace's system.

The process isn't without its growing pains, but after experiencing life without basketball, Sensley is grateful just to have a ball in his hands and a coach on his case.

"I don't mind the yelling because I've been waiting for this a long time," Sensley said. "So if he cusses me out I know it's not personal, he's just trying to get me better.

"When you're sitting on the side for two years and not being able to play, I would love to have somebody yelling at me. It's the greatest feeling."


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