RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Assistant coach Alika Smith led the Rainbow Warriors in a drill at practice yesterday. The team debuts with an exhibition Saturday. P.J. Owsley defended the pass. CLICK FOR LARGE
'Bows get together
Now that introductions are out of the way, Hawaii's players have become a team
The Hawaii basketball team has been battling each other in the gym over the past two weeks in preparation for the new season. The actual process of building the team began well before the start of practice.
This year's Rainbow Warriors make their debut Saturday in an exhibition game at the Stan Sheriff Center and open the season at UNLV next week.
HAWAII VS. UH-HILO
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
A major part of the annual building process includes blending the talents and personalities of players from often disparate backgrounds into the fabric of the team on and off the court.
The Rainbows have added six players to the 15-player roster this season. Last year the number was six (including walk-ons) and nine the season before that.
"Everybody, I feel, is together," junior Bobby Nash said. "Everybody likes each other and we work hard, that's the main thing. We saw that in the conditioning drills, everybody was pushing everybody else to be better and I think this team has come a long way from being individuals at one time to coming together and being a group."
The 2006-07 Rainbow Warriors represent 10 states, stretching from the Deep South
to the Northwest to Oahu. Senior forward Ahmet Gueye came to Manoa from Senegal (via Salt Lake Community College) last year.
The Rainbow coaches have mined the junior-college system over the years to replenish the roster, maintaining a brisk pace of players coming and going through the program. Four more junior-college products and two freshmen joined the team this year.
Nash is entering his fourth year in the program, making him the longest-tenured player on the team. He's seen the roster change around him over his career and has grown accustomed to welcoming newcomers to the team.
He hosted P.J. Owsley, Riley Luettgerodt and Alex Veit on their recruiting visits.
"The coaches do a good job of bringing in good guys," Nash said. "If you look up and down our roster we have a great nucleus of guys who not only play with class and do the work, but they're friends off the court. We battle on the court and go at it, but off the court we love each other like a brother."
The players from the mainland are lodged in the dormitories on campus. The two local products, Nash (Hawaii Loa Ridge) and sophomore guard Jack Miller (Kahala), live at home but certainly aren't left out.
"Our guys mesh pretty well because I make them all stay on campus," UH head coach Riley Wallace said. "Unless they're married or living at home, they live on campus. That makes them stay together, work together, and get to know each other."
Given the number of new faces and personalities who join the team each year, maintaining harmony in the locker room could be a concern. But the 'Bows have largely been able to successfully navigate those challenges.
"I just think we've been very fortunate for the last seven, eight years that we've had great kids," said associate coach Jackson Wheeler, the Rainbows' primary recruiter.
"We try to recruit good kids, but we've been very lucky that we've had a lot of really nice kids. I don't know if there's any art to it, but we've been very fortunate."
The Rainbows have cultivated relationships with several junior colleges over the years, which Wheeler said helps the staff "get a real true feel for what we're getting."
Owsley (Bozeman, Mont.) is the latest in a line of forwards who played at Salt Lake C.C. Luettgerodt (Gladstone, Ore.) is a product of Chemeketa Community College, which also sent former center Chris Botez to UH.
Todd Lowenthal (San Diego) is the only member of this year's team who was in high school at this time last year and said being around the rest of the team has helped him acclimate to college life.
"They embraced me pretty well right away," he said. "We do a lot together --study halls, this and that.
"It's been a pretty good transition so far with the academics and the athletics, balancing them. ... I'm enjoying getting to know the guys better. They're good guys, fun to be around."
Center Todd Follmer (Coto De Caza, Calif.) and forward Veit (Salem, Ore.) were brought in to bolster the frontcourt and guard Marquez Jackson (Snellville, Ga.) began his career with the UH football team.
For Wallace, the process of working with players of varied backgrounds has been part of the reward over 19 years at UH.
"That's the most fun in coaching," he said, "meeting the guys and you see their families and you see their personality, how they grow as students and how they grow as players."
According to the team's media guide, the 2006-07 Rainbow Warriors:
» Are business minded: four players are majoring or intend to major in business-related fields. Another four, and student coach Deonte Tatum, are taking sociology courses.
» Still idolize No. 23: Michael Jordan ranks as the most popular pro (in this case former pro) in a wide-spread vote. Allen Iverson and Dirk Nowitzki are the only other players to get more than two mentions.
» Enjoy kickin' it: Four 'Bows said they'd be playing soccer if they weren't already devoted to basketball. Football and baseball are next with three each. P.J. Owsley, a 6-foot-8 forward, is a golfer.
» Are plugged in before games: By far the most popular pregame activity is listening to music before tipoff. Prayer is next on the list.
» Want the Ducks: The Northwest influence is evident in Oregon being the team most often mentioned as the team they'd want to add to the schedule. North Carolina and Duke are next.
» Appreciate Ray Allen's "Game": The movie most often mentioned as the Rainbows' favorite is He Got Game, the Spike Lee creation following Jesus Shuttlesworth's (Allen) journey through the recruiting process.
Jason Kaneshiro, Star-Bulletin