RAINBOWS SEASON PREVIEW
Hawaii has many options -- old and new -- down low
FOURTH OF FIVE PARTS
The UH basketball team opens its season tomorrow. Coach Riley Wallace will spend his 20th season placing his pieces on the board to put the 'Bows in position to improve on last year's 17-11 mark. Today's preview takes a look at the post players that make up the 2006-07 team.
While the Hawaii basketball team has proven firepower from the perimeter, the Rainbow Warriors' production in the post will be pivotal to their fortunes this season.
The Rainbows return just one big man who suited up for the team last season and have spent the preseason bringing the newcomers up to speed at the Division I level.
"There's so many things our big people have to be able to do," said associate coach Bob Nash, who works with the UH post players. "They have to be able to pass the ball and make decisions.
"In a lot of situations in junior college, all they had to do was be able to catch it on the block and turn around and shoot. We have to make decisions with the basketball in our motion offense and, if they're not where they need to be and on time, we'll stall out."
Senior co-captain Ahmet Gueye has returned from a knee injury suffered late last season to reclaim a place in the starting lineup. Junior Stephen Verwers practiced with the team while sitting out last season as a transfer from Colorado State, and his experience landed him a spot in the first five.
Sophomore Todd Follmer and junior P.J. Owsley, both junior-college transfers, are the first big men off the bench, while junior Alex Veit provides depth and athleticism.
"We need somebody to step up," senior guard Matt Lojeski said. "You can't count on shooting every night, you have to know you have people to get the grind-it-out kind of buckets. We have to find a couple of players we can go to and really rely on in crunch time."
Gueye filled that role for the first 26 games last season before tearing ligaments in his right knee during practice. Prior to the injury, he gave the Rainbows a physical presence in the middle with 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He was named to the Western Athletic Conference's All-Newcomer and All-Defensive teams after leading the league with 65 blocked shots.
He continues to work his way back into game shape while remaining their most effective post player.
"We need his athleticism, we need his knowledge in there, his ability to score around the basket, and defense," head coach Riley Wallace said. "He's got to be the steadying factor for the big guys. And he's got to get his time on the bench and rest or he'll wear down."
Gueye bulked up in the weight room while rehabbing his knee, and the results have been evident to his teammates working against him in practice.
"The muscle he put on over the summer you can tell really helps," Verwers said. "It's a lot better not having to guard Ahmet. I think it made me better, but (not guarding him) makes practice a little more fun."
Verwers spent last season banging against the UH big men in practice while spending game nights on the bench. At 6-11 and 255 pounds, he'll be counted on to give the 'Bows another imposing figure in the paint.
"We've had a lot of competition, so you can't take a day off," he said. "Going against each other, the better the competition, the better we're going to do on the court."
Follmer and Owsley both began their careers at Division I schools before playing at junior colleges last season and signing with UH in the spring. Both have shown a soft touch on their mid-range jumpers and will be counted on to contribute significant minutes off the bench.
"The learning process is going good. Every day it just gets better and better and I'm finally getting all the plays down," said Owsley, who followed Gueye to Manoa from Salt Lake Community College. "We have to play hard and physical at all times because we've got some big guys in the league."
Follmer (7-foot, 225 pounds) isn't as burly as the starters, but displayed his ability to run the floor and score in transition during last Saturday's exhibition win over UH-Hilo. The sophomore posted nine points and five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.
"That's what I'm going to get paid for this year," Follmer said. "Running and getting those baskets on the fast break is one of my strong points."
Veit continues to learn his role in the system, but has shown flashes of his potential in practice.
"He's got a lot of talent," Wallace said. "He can shoot the ball and can jump, but he's struggling picking up all of our screens. If and when he does, he'll be a big factor for us because he can do things other guys can't."
THROUGH THE YEARS
Coach Riley Wallace is beginning his 20th season as coach of the 'Bows. A look at the 1999-2000 through 2002-03 seasons:
RECORD: 17-12, 5-9 WAC
MVP: Marquette Alexander
HIGHLIGHTS: Goes 8-2 in nonconference play, edging Bradley, Colorado and Oregon by a total of nine points to win the Rainbow Classic. ... Upsets SMU in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament, 87-82. ... Season ends with a 103-100 double-overtime loss to Fresno State on a 3-pointer at the buzzer. ... Alexander named to the All-WAC second team. Troy Ostler and Predrag Savovic make the All-Newcomer team.
RECORD: 17-14, 8-8 WAC
MVP: Predrag Savovic
HIGHLIGHTS: Loses to Louisville to open the season and falls to Tennessee in the Rainbow Classic final. ... Goes 7-1 at home in WAC play, ending with a 102-87 rout of TCU. ... Beats TCU and Fresno State in the WAC tournament, then upsets host Tulsa 78-72 in double overtime to win the championship. ... Carl English named MVP of the WAC tournament. ... Loses to Syracuse in its first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.
RECORD: 27-6, 15-3 WAC
MVP: Predrag Savovic
HIGHLIGHTS: Sets a school record for wins, capturing the WAC regular-season and tournament championships. ... Edges Tulsa 86-85 on UH's first "White Out" night on Mark Campbell's free throw with 2.9 seconds left ... Reaches the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, losing to Xavier in the first round. ... Wallace named WAC and NABC District 13 Coach of the Year. ... Savovic makes AP honorable mention All-America.
RECORD: 19-12, 9-9 WAC
MVP: Carl English
HIGHLIGHTS: Begins the season 7-1. ... Erases a 15-point deficit with 4:15 left and beats Butler 81-78 in overtime to win the Rainbow Classic. ... English hits eight 3-pointers in a 73-67 overtime win over Tulsa. ... Wins at Kent State in the inaugural ESPN Bracket Busters Saturday. ... Ends its two-year reign as WAC tournament champion with a loss to Tulsa in the semifinals. ... Defeats UNLV in Las Vegas in the first round of the NIT. Loses at Minnesota in the second round.
||Led WAC in blocked shots, named to All-Newcomer team
||Transfer from Colorado State, sat out last season
||Coto de Caza, Calif.
||Averaged 10.4 points, 4.5 rebounds at Irvine Valley College
||Shot 53 percent, blocked 34 shots at Salt Lake CC
||Averaged 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds at Monterey Peninsula College