UH beefs up with junior post Verwers
The transfer from Colorado State is a front-line starter
When Stephen Verwers decided to change colleges a couple of years ago, he thought the move would take him back to his Texas roots.
Hawaii vs. Coppin State
When: Today, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE (Ch. 5)
Tickets: $5-22 (Parking, $3)
Instead, thanks in part to the power of the Internet, he's found a home playing center in the middle of the Pacific.
Verwers transferred to Hawaii from Colorado State last year and sat out his first season in Manoa due to the NCAA's transfer rules. With a year in the program, the 6-foot-11, 255-pound junior has earned a starting job in the post with the Rainbow Warriors.
The Weatherford, Texas, product initially considered transferring to TCU, but a sudden sequence of events landed him in the islands.
"I originally planned on going closer to home, but I couldn't pass up Hawaii," Verwers said.
After making his debut at UNLV last Friday, Verwers will play his first game at the Stan Sheriff Center tonight when the Rainbows face Coppin State in their home opener.
Statistically, Verwers posted a modest line of four rebounds and no points with a block and a steal on defense against UNLV. But UH coach Riley Wallace was encouraged by Verwers' effort as he gets back in the flow of game action after being limited to practices last season.
"He played better in the second half, where he blocked a shot and got some rebounds, but we've got to get some scoring out of him," Wallace said. "He was much more active in the second half, but he's been off a year. It's new to him, so it's going to take him a while.
"He knows what he's supposed to do, but that intensity isn't the same as you need in a game. He works hard, he's coachable, so he'll be all right."
Verwers spent last season helping the UH starters prepare for games by banging against them in practice on a daily basis. This year, he's looking forward to battling against the Rainbows' opponents as well.
"He's a big, strong guy, that's why we named him 'Bam Bam,' " UH associate coach Bob Nash said. "He gives us that physical presence that we need. With him in there and Ahmet (Gueye) in there, that's a lot of beef."
With Verwers and a bulked-up Gueye (6-8, 235) in the paint, practices can be punishing at times.
"It sucks for me," Gueye said of working against Verwers, "especially because I'm back from an injury and I'm not in shape yet. But that's what I ask him to do, push me around."
Verwers didn't exactly follow the conventional path to a Division I basketball scholarship.
He was homeschooled through high school and played on a team of other homeschool students his parents, Craig and Debbie, started about a decade ago.
Craig Verwers said the program started with about 10 students and has grown to include 50 boys and girls playing on teams ranging from elementary school teams to high school varsity squads.
"We're trying to build a real program and teach basketball and Christian philosophy and ethics through basketball," said Craig Verwers, who coaches the varsity boys team.
Stephen helped the team win the 4A division at the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championship in Oklahoma City, but drew more attention through playing AAU basketball and was a highly rated prep prospect.
"We feel like at most college programs, the coaches get paid for finding good players," Craig Verwers said. "And if there's talent out there, they're going to find them."
Stephen signed with Colorado State and played in 57 games as a part-time starter in his two seasons in Fort Collins. But when the Rams coaches started recruiting big men to play in front of him, he decided to make a change.
Once he was granted his release by Colorado State, a newspaper report on the Internet alerted the UH coaches to his situation.
"I probably wouldn't have said anything except it said, 'Weatherford,' " Wallace said. "That rang a bell because we have very good friends in Weatherford."
The UH staff then got in contact with Weatherford College coach Mark Osina, who has sent several players to UH over the years and knew Verwers' family. Osina then helped the two sides connect.
"When I decided to transfer, (associate coach Jackson Wheeler) called me on a Wednesday and I was out here on that Friday," he said. "It was just crazy."
With TCU joining Colorado State in the Mountain West Conference that year, Verwers would have lost a year of eligibility had he signed with the Horned Frogs. But he was sold on his recruiting trip to the islands and was the final piece in the Rainbows' 2005 recruiting class.
"I remember coming to a men's volleyball game and it was awesome," he said. "I thought if that's the atmosphere for men's volleyball it's going to be great for basketball."
Coming to Hawaii also satisfied Verwers' non-basketball interests.
He's majoring in travel industry management in one of the world's top tourist destinations and as an Eagle Scout, Hawaii's outdoor culture fits into his background as well.
"Most people think Boy Scouts is nerdy and stuff, but I really enjoyed it," said Verwers. "There were so many opportunities. I spent most of my summers in Boy Scouts wakeboarding and water skiing on a lake."
Virgnia opens arena with an upset
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. » Mamadi Diane scored 25 points and Sean Singletary had 24 to help Virginia open its glistening $130 million John Paul Jones Arena in stirring fashion, coming from behind to beat No. 10 Arizona 93-90 last night.
The Cavaliers, who took their first lead since the early going with 5:45 left, used a 14-5 run to grab an 86-82 lead, then held on at the free-throw line.
Ivan Radenovic led the Wildcats with 24 points.