FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
UH's John Wilder dressed up as Leatherface from the movie "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" for last night's Twilight Ohana, themed "Freaky Friday the 13th." CLICK FOR LARGE
Wallace is life of party
The coach climbs out of a coffin to remind everyone that he's not dead yet
RILEY Wallace is grinning, his eyes shining. He's saying, "You want to see my casket?"
And there it is, the coffin he was to come out of for last night's Twilight Ohana 2006 Freaky Friday the 13th, the annual dress-up bash and first basketball practice of the year.
Riley Wallace, about to start his 20th, and (for all intents and purposes, it's even written in the contract) last season as Hawaii's coach, popping out of a coffin, to tell us he's not dead yet.
"I'm just trying it out," Wallace says, patting the casket, hours before the event. "I might buy it."
He knows what to look for. He does have previous casket experience. This isn't his first time in one. He worked for an undertaker, many years ago, and he knew there was one cleaning man who was especially nervous when it came to dusting the caskets, and so Wallace was lying in wait, so to speak, rising up ghoulishly when the poor guy opened the lid. The guy was so scared he almost died. Running away, the guy almost broke his back.
Now that's a prank.
Looking back, it's even funnier now. What a young, dumb, fun thing to do.
"We almost got fired!" Wallace says.
And you have to think that's probably not his only story that ends on that particular punch line.
AND THE NIGHT, as it always does, got better from there. The players, as always, came out in costumes (though you can tell they'd overdone it in years past; the budget's obviously been slashed). Matt Lojeski as Dracula. New guy Todd Follmer as Frankenstein (Frankenstein wore slippers, and dunked). Matt Gibson as Gollum (he got the biggest ovation -- announcer Billy V called him Matt "Welcome Back" Gibson). Dominic Waters as the alien from "Alien" (it looks like the alien can play defense). Pam Tambini, Tanya Smith and Brittany Grice as the Ghostbusters.
And the highlight -- Bobby Nash as Michael Jackson's Thriller (complete with the high waters and moonwalk socks) and Janevia Taylor showing some incredible dance moves as the head of the Thriller chorus line of ghoul girls.
It's always a heck of a night.
Dog the Bounty Hunter and his wife Beth were set to be honorary coaches at the Rainbows' Green and White scrimmage -- they loved the idea. But they couldn't make it. There was that little matter of being under house arrest.
Wait a minute. I thought he had an ankle bracelet.
"He can't be out after 10 o'clock," Wallace says.
Well, not to worry. Sinbad was to be a guest coach for the Rainbow Wahine scrimmage. Yes, that Sinbad. (Will Smith's Uncle Phil once said, "His parents named him Sinbad. He had two choices -- pirate or comic.") He's an old friend of Wahine assistant Pat Charity. She picked up coach Jim Bolla at the airport when he got back from the WAC Basketball Preview. "Where did you park the car?" Bolla asked. She hadn't parked the car. Sinbad was out there, going around and around.
DALIA SOLIA came through to keep the Wahine's win streak alive in the men vs. women 3-point competition. There was the slam-dunk contest, of course, won by Lojeski.
But the best part was the coffin, Riley Wallace staying alive. It was a "memorial service" in homage to the close of his career. The tombstone bore his win-loss record. The UH pep band led the coffin out onto the court, a somber funeral parade. They played an honor guard's march.
Bob Nash was a minister. Jackson Wheeler, Alika Smith, mourners.
The parade stopped.
Someone shouted from the stands: "Hee-eee's baa-aack!"
And then out of the darkness, a voice:
"I ain't dead yet."
And Wallace clawed out, jumped out, to applause.
A statement. He's ready to coach his 20th year.
And then they turned on the lights, and rolled out the balls. The final season had begun.
He'd gotten the idea from coaching legend Abe Lemon, who was on top of the world at Texas, until losing to Eddie Sutton's Arkansas squad, and then Lemon was buried alive. Well, Lemon, unbeaten in battles of wits (he once told Howard Cosell, "You're a big deal in New York, but you're nothing in Walters, Okla."), decided to take it literally. He set up a dramatic moment, came out of a coffin, and told the world, "We're not dead yet." The place went nuts.
A young Wallace was inspired.
"I had this idea 35 years ago," he says.
It says something that he's never had to use it all this time.