Hawaii's comeback kids make it through first test
WHEN attending Twilight Ohana, Hawaii's annual first-practice dress-up basketball bash, we are looking to catch a glimpse of the new guys, of course, and the costumes (no Catwoman this year). But this time was different. This time there were deeper questions. This time we needed to see how those three guys were bouncing back. It was our first chance to check the progress of the Rainbows' trio of comeback kids.
Yes, Matt Gibson and Bobby Nash, two starting/top-six swingmen who sat out most of last season with medical-hardship redshirts. And low-post player Ahmet Gueye, who was a dynamic
presence for most of last season, but who blew out his knee before last year's senior night final home game.
We had to see. We had to see if they were back. Twilight Ohana. The Green and White game.
Nash and Gibson were their team's top scorers in helping Nash's dad coach the White to a tight 40-35 win in 20 mostly running-clock minutes.
(Thank goodness. He needed the win. If Bob Nash is going to be a leading candidate to be the next UH coach he couldn't be known as the guy who lost to Sinbad. The comedian led the Rainbow Wahine Black team to a 23-15 win over the Nash-coached White in a scrimmage in which Dalia Solia led all scorers with seven points. But the fun part was that both coaches were mic'd up -- and yes, Bob Nash and Sinbad are probably the only two people on Earth you could trust with live mics on a basketball bench.)
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Matt Gibson drove past Dominic Waters during Friday night's Hawaii basketball Twilight Ohana.
"I'm back to 100 percent," Bobby Nash said, and he could have been talking about his shooting stats, too (but he wasn't; he immediately launched into a mouthful of team-first clichés). The guy never missed in the scrimmage, led the field (along with Green opponent Matt Lojeski) with 12 points.
"I've been feeling good," Nash said afterward, again, talking about his shoulder. But he may as well have been describing other stuff, too.
He's back. He's so intense on the court, so hard-nosed. He's a different type of player, but he plays like his dad did. At one point late Friday he came off a screen, sank a 3, and fixed Green coach Jackson Wheeler -- who'd been needling Bobby Nash all night, of course -- with a Reggie Miller glare.
It's fun to be playing again.
Gibson thought so, too. It was a long time off, last season. A rough time. He'd gotten into it with Riley Wallace, then he was suspended, and then he was injured, then he sat out the year. He's back now. He's back, and he's a new man. He's not Little Matt now. He's New Matt. He talks like he's been born again.
How does he feel?
"Excited," he said. "Really excited. I'm looking forward to the season. We've got a great team, a great group of guys. Just this whole preseason and everything the team has really been ... a team. In years past we had these guys would be here, you know it was always split a little bit. This year you can just feel the chemistry between everybody. You walk in the locker room, everybody's smiling. Even after a long practice, you know, we come all together. Everybody's hanging out together, we do everything together."
And Gueye, the guy we were really worried about, the man who had season-ending knee surgery just a few months ago. How soon could he be ready? Is he rushing? Can he make it all the way back?
There have been a few times, way, way, deep in the back of his mind, when he's wondered those same things himself.
"I really needed that," he said after the scrimmage Friday night. You could see it in his smile, the warmth spreading through his body. He's feeling much better now. Wow, he's feeling great.
They're taking it slowly. He played sparingly -- off the bench, 10 of the 20 minutes, the stat sheet read. Riley Wallace said Micah Kroeger had a similar surgery -- he's using that experience in charting Gueye's comeback pace.
Gueye wore a brace, and you could see a slight hitch in his gait, if you looked for it, as he ran the floor. But that will happen. Gueye's knee is sound, but he calls it "a new knee. Just like a baby." He needs to build up confidence and strength.
He was a little nervous, before the scrimmage, he said, he was just a little bit scared.
"But once I got in and noticed how the players, you know, joking around and stuff, it's a great feeling. I was like, 'You know what, I'm back. I'm back in business.' "
He said the knee is a little sore after workouts, sometimes. But after testing it under game conditions the other night, you could see how good he felt.
"So the mental part I think is going to be the hardest," he said. "But once you get on the court, you get the feeling."
It's a great feeling, being back. There's nothing harder than sitting out. There's nothing better than being back.
"Watching these guys (last year) and being on the bench with them, stuff like that, it wears on you," Nash said. "You just want to get out there. And play. But limitations hold you back.
"This year, I'm back healthy. Ahmet's back. My buddy Matt's back. My buddies on the bench are back, so we're ready to go," Nash said.
"Full tilt," he said.