UH program up in the air
Wallace, Rainbows are looking forward to returning to Hawaii
LAS CRUCES, N.M. » So what's next?
With the team still holding out a bit of hope for a call from the National Invitation Tournament today, the Hawaii basketball program will soon reach a crossroads in its history.
Not since Frank Arnold bolted for Arizona State in 1987 has the program embarked on a search for new leadership. The last resulted in the hiring of Riley Wallace, who provided stability, 16 winning seasons and nine postseason appearances over the next two decades.
The Wallace era will officially end when his contract expires on April 30, and UH athletic director Herman Frazier said the goal remains to have a new coach named shortly after the Final Four in early April.
The Rainbow Warriors stayed in Las Cruces following their quarterfinal loss to Utah State in the Western Athletic Conference on Thursday and are scheduled to return home today.
But Wallace wasn't packing up his final season just yet yesterday. The Rainbows stand at 18-13 with an outside shot at a bid to the 40-team National Invitation Tournament.
"There's still a chance," Wallace said.
The WAC will likely be getting two bids to the NCAA Tournament in No. 10 Nevada and tournament champion New Mexico State. Utah State, which lost in the final for the second straight year, is probably headed to the NIT, with Fresno State, Hawaii and Boise State holding on to glimmers of hope.
Whenever the end comes, the UH administration will soon be in the spotlight as it oversees a leadership change at one of its most high-profile positions.
The job posting officially went up late last month, and résumés will be accepted through March 21. Frazier said he won't get a gauge on the interest level in the job until the applications are turned over to him after the closing date.
"It's just part of the job," Frazier said of the pressure of the impending search, which figures to be one of his most closely watched decisions during his tenure in Manoa.
Whoever is named the new head coach will have the task of maintaining a UH program that has posted eight straight winning seasons. The 'Bows went to the NCAA Tournament three times and the NIT six other years under Wallace's watch, though they never accomplished his stated goal of advancing in the Big Dance.
"Our whole program is on the upswing and it's there to stay," Wallace said. "We're a player in the WAC and it'll be that way for a long time."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii loses two players who are leaders as co-captains and in statistical categories in Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye, pictured here sitting with teammate Bobby Nash, left,
Most of the other recent coaching changes at UH came with programs coming off losing seasons. June Jones took over a languishing football program that went 0-12 the year before his arrival. The baseball program had been struggling when Mike Trapasso was hired following Les Murakami's retirement. The women's basketball team went 8-20 in Vince Goo's final season before his retirement in 2004 and Jim Bolla was hired.
Wallace has endorsed UH associate coach Bob Nash for the job and Nash said he will file his paperwork when he gets back to the office.
"The program has been very stable," Nash said. "Making sure the program keeps moving forward is the big thing now."
The conclusion of the season will also mean the end for seniors Ahmet Gueye and Matt Lojeski. Both co-captains were the 'Bows statistical leaders this season. Lojeski averaged 17.5 points over UH's last seven games, including a career-best 35 against Boise State in the regular-season finale. Gueye was second in scoring at 12.1 points per game and led in rebounding at 8.4 per game.
Both seniors are looking at extending their careers as professionals in Europe.
Juniors Bobby Nash (11.2) and Matt Gibson (10.2) returned from redshirt seasons to give the 'Bows steady production in the starting lineup.
The returnees face the uncertainty inherent in a coaching change, but "I'm not really thinking about that right now," Bobby Nash said.
"I'm looking back at this season and look at the things I can do better and hopefully improve on, and get better for whoever comes in next year."
As for Wallace, when asked what's next for him, he said he hasn't settled on a course as yet.
He's been invited to take a look at the athletic director position at Centenary, his college alma mater, and will stop at the Shreveport, La., campus on his way to the Final Four in Atlanta later this month.
"There will be something out there; I'm going to relax a little bit," Wallace said.
Utah State coach Stew Morrill, a close friend, does have some plans in mind for Wallace's offseason.
"Riley Wallace will be in Logan, Utah, playing some golf, talking some basketball," Morrill said. "I guarantee that."