FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sophomore Wu Tai-Hao wants to bring Brigham Young-Hawaii its first national title in basketball this year.
Wu tabbed to lead Seasiders to top
The forward from Taiwan is expected to break out in his second season in the United States
Brigham Young-Hawaii men's basketball player Tai-Hao Wu is still getting comfortable with English. But his game needs no translation.
In any language, the 6-foot-9 forward from Taiwan is good on the hardwood. Only a sophomore, Wu is skilled at both ends of the court. He may well be the best among a talented group of young Seasiders trying to recapture the glory days after a down campaign last season in the Pacific West Conference.
"My biggest strength is to get rebounds and defense," said the 21-year-old, who played his high school ball at Tsai-Shin in Taipei. From last year, "through (coach Ken Wagner's) teaching, I learn how to manage my emotion and thoughts when I am playing in the game. I became more mature than last year, and also have good relationship with other teammates."
Wu averaged about 10 points and three rebounds per game for the Seasiders last season, and finished with 38 assists, 18 blocks and 11 steals. Along the way, he showed flashes of brilliance -- like the time he hit seven of eight shots for 16 points in a game against Grand Canyon (Ariz.), or the time he had five assists, four blocks and four rebounds against longtime rival Hawaii Pacific.
BYUH managed a 6-6 PacWest record and 14-11 overall mark last year. The Seasiders finished third in the conference, won for the first time by Chaminade.
If they are to return to the postseason and reclaim the status gained when the Seasiders took four out of five conference championships from 1999-2000 to 2003-04, Wu and freshman standouts Okesene "Junior" Ale (Kahuku) and Lucas Alves will need to play a big part in getting them there.
And while he understands the team concept, Wu has lofty goals.
"Everyone needs to be responsible for making contributions to this team, not just players who have better skills," he said. "For me, I will contribute and play my own role. For this year, I expect myself to achieve not only winning the national championship of Div. II, but also commit myself to be involved in the (Chinese Taipei) national first team."
The Seasiders begin play in the new six-team PacWest on Jan. 3 against Notre Dame de Namur (Calif.). The other mainland conference team, Grand Canyon, was third in scoring for all of Div. II and ranked as high as No. 15 nationally last year.
Here is a quick look at the other Hawaii Div. II schools:
You can't replace PacWest player of the year Chris Reaves, and Silverswords coach Matt Mahar knows it. That doesn't mean Chaminade can't defend its conference championship.
"We have three guys back who played a lot for us last year, and I think they're expecting to win, along with the new guys," Mahar said. "As a coaching staff we're gonna put ourselves in the best position to win, and give it our best."
First-team All-PacWest point guard Zack Whiting is one of those returnees, along with swing Stewart Kussler and post Marko Kolaric.
Jeff Law enters his ninth season with the Vulcans as the second-longest-tenured head coach in the PacWest to BYUH's Wagner. UHH placed second in the conference last year at 6-6, and had a 16-9 record overall. "People here in Hilo are expecting a competitive team," said Law, "and that's my job (to accomplish) every year. But we have a lot of new guys, and there will be some growing pains."
The Vulcans lost four seniors and a lot of size, including leading scorer Justin Griffin and 7-footer Alex Graham. Swing Justin Dobson is the team's top returning scorer. Among the newcomers, Law said he expects continued development and production from junior post Sam Wilhoite. The one-time Hawaii high school player of the year out of Kalaheo transferred from Skyline College (Calif.).
A former NAIA national champion under legendary coach Tony Sellitto, HPU has not experienced the same level of success since he left five years ago and was at the bottom of the PacWest last year at 3-9, 8-19 overall.
But the Sea Warriors have a new coach -- Darren Vorderbruegge -- and four returning seniors, including 6-4 shooting guard Adam Reinking.
"We want to build a foundation for the future, but we're not looking past this year," Vorderbruegge said. "We don't see a game on our schedule that we don't think we can go into and be competitive."