RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii center Chris Botez is averaging 3.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in a little more than 15 minutes per game off the bench this year after starting 27 games last season.
Rainbows ask Botez to fill Fazekas' shoes
The backup big man helps UH prepare for the Nevada star by impersonating him in drills
Chris Botez has been a marked man around the Stan Sheriff Center this week.
The Hawaii center hasn't been able to venture very far without having someone shadowing him, tracking his every move on the court.
HAWAII VS. NEVADA
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Live, KFVE (Ch. 5)
Radio: Live, 1420-AM
Tickets: $22 (lower level-single seats only), $18 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Such is life when you're playing the role of the most celebrated player in the conference.
The 7-foot Botez has filled the part of 6-11 Nevada forward Nick Fazekas, the reigning Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, for the UH scout team this week as the Rainbow Warriors (7-4, 1-0 WAC) prepared for tonight's game against the Wolf Pack (10-2, 0-0).
"They had me shoot like him, shoot from outside, do all his moves so we can work on seeing how it is (playing against him)," Botez said.
Along with doing his part in practice to help the starters get ready for the game against the defending league champions, the senior has also proven valuable in his new role as the Rainbows' sixth man this season.
After starting 27 games last season, Botez is getting used to life as a reserve, averaging 3.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in a little more than 15 minutes per game off the bench.
And with UH's thin front line, each of those minutes takes on greater significance.
"Some guys don't accept their role," UH coach Riley Wallace said. "He took his role and takes off, knowing the better he plays and the harder he works the more time he'll get. That's how it works."
Botez averaged 5.3 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and ranked fifth in the WAC with 41 blocked shots after transferring from Chemeketa Community College (Ore.) in 2004.
This season, Botez has rotated into the lineup behind starting post players Ahmet Gueye and Matthew Gipson. He became UH's lone big man off the bench when lightly used senior Milos Zivanovic quit the team last month.
"It doesn't really frustrate me that I'm coming off the bench, I know I'm going to play either way," Botez said.
"I'm not really worried about it because I know I'm going to come in and do my part and bring energy. ... Get shots up, get a couple of blocks and rebounds, get the team motivated."
Though his statistics don't jump off the page, Botez was certainly missed last week, when a rib injury forced him to miss a game for the first time in his UH career.
Without another center to back him up, Gueye, the WAC's leader in blocked shots, couldn't play as aggressively on the defensive end in UH's win over North Carolina A&T as he tried to avoid foul trouble.
Botez' ailment, diagnosed as an inflammation of the muscles around the rib cage causing shortness of breath, has since cleared up and he returned to action against Penn. He also had some bruised ribs, but is thankful the injury wasn't worse.
"I was sleeping when it hit," he said. "I woke up and I just couldn't breathe. It was crazy.
"It was a relief to know it was just bruised ribs. They told me it would take a couple days to wear off."
Botez said he's able to go full speed again, and has been working on powering the ball to the basket when he catches the ball in the post and smoothing out his jump shot.
"Defensively, he gives you that big body and makes you change your shots so he's important that way, and he runs the floor well," Wallace said.
"(Associate coach Bob) Nash is working every day with those big guys, banging them and trying to get them stronger and better on the inside shots. If (Botez) does, then he'll get you six to eight points coming in, and that could be very important."
The left-hander also continues to focus on improving at the free-throw line, an area of frustration for most of his career. He's 5-for-14 this year and is shooting 40 percent as a 'Bow.
"They're still shaky, but I'm still working on it," he said with a slight shake of his head. "I'm not letting go of it."
Simulating Fazekas' game in practice gave Botez a chance to expand his shooting range this week.
Normally, the UH coaches would cringe at the sight of Botez hoisting shots from 20 feet. But they made an exception this week, given Fazekas' penchant for drifting to the perimeter for jumpers.
"He made a couple," Wallace pointed out.
"It's fun to have a change sometimes," said Botez, who has not attempted a 3-pointer in 39 games at UH. "Posting up all day and running hard, then you can sit there and shoot 3s. What more do you want?"
Well-traveled: Nevada's trip to Italy last May certainly served as a cultural experience for the Wolf Pack. And the team continues to reap benefits on the court as well.
The Pack went 4-1 against Italian competition, but more importantly, they were able to get guards Marcelus Kemp and Lyndale Burleson into the rotation.
Kemp missed last season due to a torn ACL, and used the trip to gain confidence in his surgically repaired knee. He enters tonight's game second on the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game.
Burleson, a freshman, averages more than 19 minutes off the bench after redshirting last season.
"That's probably a big key to our fast start this year, because those guys were able to get some experience in the offseason," Nevada coach Mark Fox said.
The production of Kemp and forward Mo Charlo (13.8 ppg) has taken some pressure off Fazekas.
"(Fazekas) gets a lot of attention from other teams, fortunately this year we have some other guys who can score," Fox said.