Flemings' work at UH isn't finished


POSTED: Saturday, March 07, 2009

Finish what you started, young man.

Roderick Flemings intends to do just that.

With his late grandfather's message in mind, Flemings is keeping his dream of making it to the NBA firmly on hold and is committed to coming back for his senior year with the Hawaii men's basketball team.

“;Oh yeah, I'm still coming back with Coach (Bob) Nash,”; the 6-foot-7 junior said. “;Get another year of college, get my degree in sports management. Might as well. I'm already here, so that's what I'm gonna do.”;

While the Rainbow Warriors (13-15, 5-10 Western Athletic Conference) have experienced their share of up-and-down moments this year, they would be in a much tougher spot without the junior college transfer from Dallas.

With his first year with the team nearly in the books, Flemings has lived up to his billing as a leader for the Rainbows, though he was met with adversity not long into the season.

There was the severe ankle sprain during an open gym session that he has yet to completely recover from, followed in late October by the terminal illness of his maternal grandfather, Ronald Young, who was stricken with both cancer and diabetes in 2007, and finally succumbed.

Flemings took a leave from the team to fly home to Dallas and be at the side of the man who had raised him as his own son, the man Flemings called “;Papa.”;

His grandmother, Lula Young, was hesitant to notify her first grandchild of her husband's status with the Hawaii season about to begin.

“;I wanted him to stay back and go on and play, help the team,”; Lula said. “;So we waited almost to the last minute, and I told his mama 'You can call him now.' He talked to his grandfather. We had the phone up to his ear, and ... (Rod) said 'Don't go nowhere 'til I get there. You hold on.' And my husband had a big smile on his face and blinked his eyes. At the time, he couldn't talk.

“;Roderick finally got here, and when he got here his grandfather had just passed about 30 minutes before he come through the door. And Roderick just hung his head down.”;

Flemings didn't have a relationship with his father, Tim, early in his childhood. It was his grandpa, a mechanic, who continuously encouraged him to go to college, get a job, make something of himself. Who taught him how to fix cars, how to treat people with respect and how to avoid the pitfalls of growing up in Big D.

“;(His death) had a big effect on him,”; said Flemings' mother, Kim Arnold. “;They was real close. Did everything (together). I was kind of scared that he wouldn't go back to school if something happened to my dad. But he did, he did, and that was good.”;

Flemings missed both of the team's preseason exhibition games, but returned just in time for the season opener against San Francisco. He's gone on to average 16.8 points (third in the WAC) and has failed to score in double figures just once for the Rainbows.

Then there's the crowd-pleasing dunks, which Flemings admits are his favorite part of basketball; he's uncorked several nasty slams to both lift teammates up and demoralize UH's opponents. Perhaps the most memorable one came from the baseline against three Idaho defenders standing haplessly under the Stan Sheriff Center basket on Feb. 7.

“;I'd rather have four points on dunks in highlight reels than five 3s or something,”; Flemings said with a grin. “;I'm telling you, I like dunking. I like making people look bad.”;

Nash sees plenty of room for Flemings to make himself look good over the summer going into next season, when the swingman will really try to sell his versatility and freakish athleticism to NBA scouts.

“;He can go as high as he wants to, but it's not without a lot more teaching, a lot more learning, a lot more conditioning, development,”; Nash said. “;This summer (in mainland camps) will be huge for him.

“;He's starting to understand his importance to our program and the energy level that he brings to the table every day is the energy level that we play with,”; the coach added. “;So when Rod is playing at a high energy level, he becomes a very, very good basketball player.”;

Junior forward Bill Amis, the team's other de facto leader, agrees.

“;He's come up big in a lot of different games and he's also a big energy guy for us,”; Amis said. “;If he's bringing it, the whole team's bringing it.”;

A big part of Flemings' impact occurs when he's crashing the offensive glass relentlessly, freeing up Amis and other post players like Paul Campbell and Petras Balocka to get in on the act. It's led to Hawaii averaging a WAC-best 13 offensive rebounds per game. When he started playing organized basketball at age 12 in Dallas, he was one of the taller kids and operated out of the post. It became key later in his career as he helped Desoto High win a state title his sophomore year by operating down low, an aspect of his game that stuck with him as he went to Oklahoma State his freshman year of college.

He had never been farther from home than that before his odyssey of transferring to North Texas (where he redshirted), then Weatherford (Texas) Junior College before choosing Hawaii over Kentucky.

While Flemings is adjusting to having a full body of water between himself and home, his family ties remain strong. He talks to his mom, grandma and little sister, Alexus, every day. Mostly because his grandma won't let a day go by without calling.

“;Literally, every day, I promise,”; Flemings said. “;I can show you my phone right now, they called me like three times. My grandma, she crazy. But I make sure I make time to talk to my family every day.”;

Grandma made sure she would see Rod play again, though, when she flew over with his mother for the Rainbow Classic after Christmas.

“;There's nothing in the world that I wouldn't do for him,”; Lula Young said. “;I took a flight, I had never flown before. I flew to Hawaii. I was terrified to death, but I only did it for him.”;

Ronald Young was also scheduled to make the trip before he became seriously ill.

After his grandfather's death on Oct. 30, Flemings announced that he'd dedicate the 2008-09 season to him, but recently chose to amend that to his entire basketball career.

“;If he wasn't here I'd probably be going in a different direction right now,”; Flemings said. “;I'm glad he did everything for me. ... I miss him.”;