HE smiled as he looked around the Special Events Arena in awe last weekend. It wasn't hard to see how far the Rainbow basketball program has come since Garland Hughes finished his playing career at the University of Hawaii 12 years ago.
"It was just so fantastic being back," said Hughes, who played for the Rainbows from 1980-85. "It made me want to ask coach (Riley Wallace) to put me in. The program has finally gotten the recognition it deserves and I'm so proud for Coach Wallace.
"About all the years the program struggled . . . this is so well-deserved. I'm just in awe of the arena. It's all class, just like the program."
Hughes' final season also was the last for coach Larry Little. For both, the end came on a snowy night in Fort Collins, Colo., where the Rainbows lost a Western Athletic Conference Tournament play-in game to Colorado State in overtime, 73-68.
A dozen years later, the 35-year-old Hughes -- an executive in the Global Products Division of Motorola in England -- is still playing basketball. He averaged 25 points --16 more than his Rainbow average -- this season for Swindon, a city team (sponsored by Motorola) in Division II of the the English National League.
"It's a lot of fun," said the 6-foot-8 Hughes, named the league's player of the month for November. "Coach Wallace (then a Rainbow assistant) was always begging me to gain 30-40 pounds back then. I was at 205. Now that I'm at 245 and at the weight he wanted me to be, he's making fun of me."
HUGHES, from Buffalo, N.Y., epitomized the term "student-athlete." He was UH's top free-throw shooter and a community service award-winner as a senior. He was the team's scholar-athlete his last three seasons.
It's no surprise Hughes plays an active role in Motorola's community service projects. The company helped build the first outdoor basketball courts in Swindon.
"We do a lot of things with the kids in the town," he said.
"The biggest thing is trying to promote basketball in Europe," added Hughes, in the middle of a two-year assignment in England. "It's not that popular a sport there and it's on TV maybe once a week. I've been watching a little soccer and am beginning to understand rugby. I have no chance at ever understanding cricket.
"I'm really enjoying the different cultural experience. My wife (the former Chris Hance of the Big Island) enjoys the people, my stepson is playing JV basketball and my 3-year-old daughter has a British accent."
Hughes hopes his job will bring him back to Hawaii. His division deals mostly with cellular communication, and Motorola will "bridge the last gap -- the U.S. -- in the global connection next year," he said. "I'm promising my wife that we'll come back here, even if we have to go around the world first."
HUGHES, in town on vacation, enjoyed watching the Rainbows pick up two victories over the weekend.
"Looking at the guys they have now, I think I'd have a hard time getting some playing time," said Hughes, who played forward and center. "They're not superstars, but they're all excellent players.
"AC (Anthony Carter) has all the skills. He's like (former UH player) Andre Morgan except AC makes everyone around him better and Morgan couldn't do that. And Alika (Smith) says a lot for the development of Hawaii high school basketball."
Hughes wore No. 33, the same number worn by Fabulous Five member John Penebacker and, currently, Penebacker's son, Dean. Hughes thinks it would be nice to have his stepson, Jay Caires, wear No. 33, too.
"Jay's a legacy, just like Penebacker's son," Hughes said. "We're trying to figure out a way to get him here to play."
Caires appears destined to play for UH, just as Hughes was. Garland was named after Judy Garland, whose signature song was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.