RAINBOW WARRIOR BASKETBALL
Gueye grinds it out
The senior didn't let his knee injury prevent him from making this his final season at Hawaii
Ahmet Gueye could have pushed this week's farewell back a year.
Instead, the Hawaii senior elected to push himself back onto the court for his senior season with the Rainbow Warrior basketball team.
It was just about a year ago that Gueye tore ligaments in his right knee during a practice the day before the Rainbows' regular-season finale. During an offseason spent in recovery, he heard the suggestions to sit out this season, but decided against seeking a medical hardship and he hasn't let the injury weigh him down as the Rainbows' anchor in the post.
HAWAII VS. IDAHO
When: Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Tickets: $26 (lower level, single seats only), $22 (upper, adult), $5 (upper, students), $3 (upper, UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs).
Promotions: All UH Alumni Association members receive two tickets for the price of one (maximum of six). The new members of the UH Circle of Honor will be inducted at halftime.
Notes: UH lost at Idaho 76-75 on Jan. 18. ... Over the last nine games, UH opponents are shooting 35.2 percent from the field, and scoring 59.6 points per game. ... Matt Lojeski leads Hawaii with 16 points per game. Idaho guard Keoni Watson (17.8 ppg) scored 27 points in both of the Vandals' last two games.
"A lot of people were telling me every day, 'you need to redshirt, you need to redshirt,' " said the 6-foot-8 forward from Senegal. "I just kept believing and I was around good people making me believe I could still do it.
"It's still not 100-percent ready, but that's the way it is. Sometimes you have to make choices and I truly believe I made the right choice."
Gueye and fellow senior co-captain Matt Lojeski play their final home games this week, starting with tomorrow's Western Athletic Conference matchup against Idaho (3-24, 1-13). Tip-off at the Stan Sheriff Center is 7:05 p.m., as the Rainbows look to avenge a January loss in Moscow.
The Rainbows (16-12, 6-8 WAC) close the home schedule Saturday against Boise State when the seniors and retiring coach Riley Wallace bid aloha to the home fans.
Though the emotions will be running high as the end nears for Wallace and the seniors, the Rainbows remain focused as they continue to fight for seeding in next week's Western Athletic Conference tournament.
Battling back from injury wasn't what Gueye planned for the second season of his Hawaii career. But dealing with the adversity both tested and revealed his resolve.
"You can't say enough about him," Wallace said. "He's a true Rainbow Warrior. He plays injured, he bangs inside, gives you numbers every night."
Gueye enters his final homestand leading the Rainbows in rebounding (8.3 per game) and ranks second on the team in scoring (12.3 points per game), exceeding his production of last season.
He's blocked 58 shots this season, raising his career total to 123, good for fourth on UH's all-time list. He was one short of a school record with seven in last Saturday's win at San Jose State.
"Ahmet has been nothing but a joy to coach these last couple of years," said UH associate coach Bob Nash, who works with the Rainbows big men. "He's a perfect gentleman.
"He has long arms, he has natural timing and he doesn't try to swat them out," Nash said. "He tries to catch them."
There was concern at the start of the season over how Gueye would hold up under the grind of a 30-game regular-season schedule. But rather than wear down, he appears to be powering up for the stretch run, averaging 15 points and 8.8 rebounds while playing 36 minutes per game over the last four games. He's also shooting 58 percent from the field and has 13 blocked shots in that span.
"That's the crazy thing about it," Gueye said. "I'm feeling so good right now. I'm feeling like I never had an injury. It was just a matter of time to get used to it."
Following rehab, Gueye was back on the court in time for the start of practice in mid-October and getting comfortable on the court has been a gradual process. He missed a nonconference game when his knee flared up and went to a modified practice schedule to give the joint adequate rest.
"The beginning was tough," he said. "(Running) up and down (the court) would be totally fine, but lateral movement was the toughest part. It was just a matter of time, my knee getting used to every thing. I'd say 75 percent of it is mental, the way you jump, the way you try to block shots, the way you post up. I just had to work on it."
Wallace credited UH trainers Jayson Goo and Melody Toth for working with Gueye on his rehab over the summer and helping him endure the pounding of the season. The team's new practice regimen with shorter practices and days off following road trips has also helped keep him fresh.
"The training department really, really helped him," Wallace said. "Jayson got him through all that rehab and Mel kept it up through the season, making sure he gets his treatment and has the doctors working with him."
Gueye transferred from Salt Lake Community College last season and, like Lojeski, earned a starting spot right away. His laid-back demeanor and easy smile made life in Hawaii a comfortable fit and his shot-blocking prowess quickly made him a crowd favorite as he was named to the WAC's all-newcomer and all-defensive teams.
Though the awkward twist of the knee on the eve of senior day last year altered his summer plans, he doesn't dwell on the unexpected turn in his career.
"I don't think about it," he said. "That's life, things happen and you can't do anything about it. If you think about it too much that's when you're going to get hurt again. I'm just trying to go hard every day and give 100 percent.
"I don't know what I would do sitting out the whole season, seeing my teammates play without me. That would be a weird feeling. I don't regret it at all."
Gueye hopes to continue his playing career professionally in Europe after college, but for now he remains focused on helping the Rainbows finish the season strong entering next week's WAC tournament in New Mexico.
"We're just trying to enjoy every day, help our teammates get better, trying to be leaders," Gueye said. "I really don't want to think about (the future) too much. I'm trying to be here for my teammates. I have work to do as a leader and as a player."