Rainbows’ backcourt brings skills back home
Wisconsin natives and current ’Bows Tatum and Lojeski play at Wisconsin-Milwaukee today
Wisconsin-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter has spent the last few days reviewing as much footage of the Hawaii basketball team as he can find as the Panthers prepared for today's game with the Rainbow Warriors.
But he already had an idea of what Hawaii's all-Wisconsin backcourt was capable of before he popped in his first tape.
Jeter, the Panthers' first-year coach, recruited Hawaii guards Deonte Tatum and Matt Lojeski during his previous stops as an assistant at UWM and Wisconsin, and will see them together on the floor today when the Panthers (3-2) host UH (3-1) at U.S. Cellular Arena.
"They're very good players," Jeter said. "I had a chance to recruit (Tatum) when he was coming out of high school and he took a different route. Matt, I had a chance to see him at a junior-college tournament and really liked him -- very good scorer and can put up numbers in a hurry.
"It's good that they're coming home to play. From the opportunities I had to spend time with them they seem to be good kids."
UH's lengthy early-season road trip takes Tatum and Lojeski back home for today's game that tips off at 3:05 p.m. Hawaii time. UH traveled to the Midwest this week as a payback for UWM's visit to Hawaii in last season's Bracket Busters game.
Tatum grew up in Milwaukee and attended Vincent High School. He then enrolled at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College before joining the Rainbows last season. Lojeski, a junior transfer, is from nearby Racine, Wis., and graduated from St. Catherine's High School.
Tatum played 15 minutes against UWM in last season's meeting, which the Panthers won 87-81.
First-year UWM assistant coach Chad Boudreau came over from Indian Hills, where he coached Tatum. Tatum also worked out with many of the UWM players over the summer, including his cousin, forward Joah Tucker.
Tucker, UWM's leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, owned bragging rights over the summer after contributing seven points and seven rebounds in the Panthers' win at the Stan Sheriff Center
"We talked about it, but I didn't rub it in too much that we got that win out there," Tucker said. "But I'm sure we'll grow up and be talking about it with our kids, so this is a big game."
Tatum has established himself as the Rainbows' floor leader this season, and playing in his hometown adds to the game's significance. But he's focused on staying within the Rainbows' game plan.
"I'm going into it with the same mind-set. Do what I normally do, nothing extra," he said. "I'm just going to go up there and make sure I control the game, make sure we're ready to go.
"A lot of people have been asking me, 'How have you been playing, how'd you do last year?' This year, everybody will get a chance to see. Everybody will get a chance to see how far I came from where I used to be."
Lojeski was playing at Eastern Wyoming College when the Bracket Busters matchup was announced, which included a return game in Milwaukee this season.
"When I saw that I was so happy," Lojeski said. "I'd already signed (with Hawaii) when they named the Bracket Buster last year. I was like, 'yes!' That was definitely a great feeling."
Lojeski ranks second on the team in scoring with 15.5 points per game and is shooting 64 percent from the field. He's also looking forward to playing in front of a large group of family and friends coming in by the busload for the game.
"I have a lot to prove," Lojeski said. "I want to show them that I can play. It's not about me though, it's about the team and we want to get a win."
While the Rainbows hope their venture to the icy climate results in their first road win of the season, the Panthers are looking to build some momentum in Jeter's first season.
The Panthers returned seven seniors from the team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 last March. Bruce Pearl then took the head coaching job at Tennessee and Jeter was hired to lead the program.
"When you have a group of seniors it's going to present challenges only because they've been successful doing it in a different manner," Jeter said, "Now you have a new coach coming in and you're trying to get them to change some habits and do it slightly different. But it's still the game of basketball and it's coming around and we're getting better."
UWM opened the season with a loss to Memphis and has won its last two against Saint Louis and South Dakota State.
"We look at Hawaii as an NCAA (Tournament)-caliber team, and we're trying to get on a roll," Tucker said. "We're trying to get a few wins in a row and get some momentum going into conference."