Making his moves
Coach Riley Wallace has many options laid out before him for his 20th and final season
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. The return of players from injury and an influx of new players give the dean of WAC coaches more options than ever.
LAST OF FIVE PARTS » The pieces are laid out before him.
Now, where do they go?
The challenge of making all the right moves each fall is what kept Riley Wallace returning to the table for two decades. You can count him among those curious to see how the season will play out over the next 30 games -- starting with today's opener at UNLV -- as the Rainbow Warriors make their bid for a return to the postseason.
With seven straight winning seasons behind him and entering the final year of a contract that dictates the end of his tenure in Manoa, Wallace can't help but reminisce about the players and teams that came before as he considers the strengths of this year's Rainbows.
"You think about those guys, I'd do that anyway, and how you coached them and how they got into the offense," he said, nodding toward the team pictures lining the walls of his office that date back to his first squad in 1987-88.
"Chris Gaines was a good lefty who could shoot outside but could take it to the hole and dunk on you. (Michael) Kuebler, how much he improved his strength and putting the ball on the floor and how he put that team on his back and carried them almost to Madison Square Garden in the NIT. And Alika (Smith) and A.C. (Carter), how good they were. There's a lot of them."
This season, Wallace will work with a Rainbow Warrior team that features several proven performers along with a group of newcomers still making the adjustment to Division I basketball.
With several players contributing at multiple positions, Wallace has multiple options available to him. But he said it took a while for the staff to figure out how the pieces fit together on the floor.
"(In past years) it seemed like you had more of your pieces in place when you were ready to get the season started," he said. "But with this year's team we've had to experiment a lot in practice, trying to get everybody some reps to see who's going to do what. ... That's why I'm interested in watching as well."
Experience proved to be a significant advantage in determining the starting lineup. Co-captains Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye were two of the team's most productive players last season, and will anchor the team in the backcourt and in the post.
Guard Matt Gibson and swingman Bobby Nash returned from medical hardship years to earn spots in the first five and forward/center Stephen Verwers looks forward to competing after sitting out last season as a transfer.
Guard Dominic Waters pushed Gibson throughout the preseason and should see significant minutes, while transfer Riley Luettgerodt showed he can contribute at shooting guard and small forward. Senior John Wilder can also play multiple spots in the backcourt, while freshman Todd Lowenthal displayed flashes of his point-guard potential.
Junior college transfers P.J. Owsley, Todd Follmer and Alex Veit will be counted on to produce as they spell Gueye and Verwers in the post.
"As the (newcomers) watch the guys who know how to run and execute that offense, I think they're smart enough that they'll jump right into it and pick it up faster that way," Wallace said.
The Rainbows' progress will be tested early, with five road games in the first month of the season. Along with today's game in Las Vegas, the Rainbows travel to Anchorage for the Great Alaska Shootout on Thanksgiving week before flying south to play at Santa Clara.
The 43rd Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic highlights the remainder of the nonconference schedule heading into the Western Athletic Conference campaign, which begins and ends with trips to Las Cruces, N.M.
The Rainbows play at New Mexico State on Jan. 4 to begin the WAC season and return in March for the league tournament.
They placed fifth in the WAC's preseason polls, and Wallace, the dean of WAC coaches, called the league "as balanced as it's been in a long time." Still, No. 24 Nevada is a clear favorite, followed by a rising NMSU program.
The pieces are on the board. Now for the first move ...
Through the Years
Coach Riley Wallace is beginning his 20th season as coach of the 'Bows. In this last installment we take a look at the 2003-04 through 2005-06 seasons:
Record: 21-12, 11-7 WAC
MVP: Michael Kuebler
Highlights: Finishes second in its first appearance in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, losing to Dayton in the final. ... Julian Sensley hits a last-second jumper in a 50-49 win over Fairfield in the Rainbow Classic title game. ... Beats a nationally ranked team on the road for the first time, defeating Utah State in the first-round of the NIT. ... Holds off Nebraska at home and loses at Michigan in the quarterfinals. ... Kuebler hits a school-record 97 3-pointers and is named first-team All-WAC and first-team Academic All-American.
Record: 16-13, 7-11 WAC
MVP: Julian Sensley
Highlights: Opens the season 8-0, highlighted by a 55-54 win over Oral Roberts on Bobby Nash's desperation 3-pointer in the Rainbow Classic semifinals ... Beats USC for the program's fourth straight Classic title. ... Matt Gibson leads the Rainbows with 13 points per game. ... Misses postseason for the first time in four years.
Record: 17-11, 10-6 WAC
MVP: Julian Sensley
Highlights: Beats No. 4 Michigan State 84-62 to open the season and give Wallace his 300th win. Matt Lojeski hits six of eight 3-pointers in his UH debut. ... Julian Sensley scores a career-high 32 points in a loss at New Mexico State. ... Sensley leads UH with 17.6 points per game. ... Finishes with record seventh straight winning season.
The Rainbows' final season under Riley Wallace begins in Las Vegas tonight.
Tip-off times are in Hawaii time. An asterisk (*) denotes WAC games.
||at UNLV, 5 p.m.
||Coppin State, 7 p.m.
||Oregon State, 5 p.m.
|Great Alaska Shootout
|| Featuring Loyola-Marymount, Missouri, Kansas City, Alaska-Anchorage, Pacific, Hofstra, Marshall, California and Hawaii
||at Santa Clara, 5 p.m.
||UNLV, 7 p.m.
||Northwestern State, 5 p.m.
|Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic
|| Featuring Wyoming, Nebraska, San Francisco, Charlotte, Houston, Valparaiso, Creighton and Hawaii
||Tennessee-Martin, 7 p.m.
||*at New Mexico State, 4 p.m.
||*at Louisiana Tech, 3 p.m.
||*Fresno State, 7 p.m.
||*Nevada, 7 p.m.
||*at Idaho, 4 p.m.
||*at Boise State, 11 a.m.
||*San Jose State, 7 p.m.
||*Utah State, 7 p.m.
||*at Fresno State, 5 p.m.
||*at Nevada, 3 p.m.
||*Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m.
||*New Mexico State, 7 p.m.
||*at Utah State, 4 p.m.
||*at San Jose State, 5 p.m.
||*Idaho, 7 p.m.
||*Boise State, 5 p.m.
||*Las Cruces, N.M.