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StarBulletin.com

UH guards provide hope


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POSTED: Thursday, October 15, 2009

One is coming to the realization that he is, in fact, a Division I basketball player. The other feels blessed just to have another chance at D-I ball.

Hawaii guards Jeremy Lay and Dwain Williams may not fit the prototype of hoops saviors, but the expectations around Manoa are just that for the two new Rainbow Warriors in the backcourt.

The Rainbows officially begin practice tomorrow at 5 p.m. in a fresh season full of promise, and the 6-foot junior guards are considered crucial pieces to help the team become a legitimate threat to make a national tournament for the first time since 2004. The practice is closed to the public.

Lay and Williams, two of the 'Bows five offseason acquisitions, will be scrutinized as they will be counted on not just to drain 3-pointers with regularity, but also to absorb and run the team's flex-motion offense over the next two weeks.

Good thing, then, that the two wasted no time in getting to know each other. Once both committed over the summer, they set out to formulate a game plan. Lay arrived as the all-time leader in points and assists out of Northern Oklahoma College-Enid and Williams, formerly a starting guard at Providence in the Big East, was making his return to college ball after a one-year hiatus for academic reasons.

“;We talk about basketball every day,”; Lay said. “;We're excited for the season to start. Right when we found out we were both coming, we contacted each other. We didn't really wait to get down here to gain a relationship.”;

Lay fulfilled a lifelong goal of becoming a D-I player this summer after receiving limited offers straight out of high school in his native Oklahoma City.

“;Him coming from the Big East, I'm always in his ear, 'Yo, what do you do with this, or what do you do with that?'”; Lay said. “;And he's been real helpful. So, that's my boy.”;

Hawaii's other newcomers are 7-foot junior center Douglas Kurtz and D-I transfer swingmen Zane Johnson and Aleksandar Milovic. The latter two will practice with the team but sit out games this year, per NCAA rules.

               

     

 

NEW GUARDS ON THE BLOCK

        Jeremy Lay
       

Height: 6-foot

       

Weight: 185 pounds

       

Last season: Northern Oklahoma-Enid

       

Stats: 16.7 ppg, 6.5 apg, 40 percent 3-point shooting

       

Dwain Williams

       

Height: 6-foot

       

Weight: 180 pounds

       

Last season: Inactive (Providence in 2007-08)

       

Stats: 11 ppg, 2.2 apg, 40.7 percent 3-point shooting

       

 

       

Fortunately, the two new guards won't be counted on to do everything; the Rainbows have returning ball-handlers in junior Hiram Thompson and sophomore Leroy Lutu Jr. But the expected impact of Lay and Williams was intensified when last year's starting point guard, Kareem Nitoto, announced he would transfer out during the spring to be closer to his ailing mother in California. (Nitoto has since surfaced at UC-Riverside, and part-time point Lasha Parghalava landed at Division II Montana State-Billings for his senior year).

Williams realizes the heavy demand that will be placed on the 'Bows' guards. But after playing together during workouts, he and Lay both have an appreciation for the other's defense that makes them push the other harder. That also applies to the fast break, where head coach Bob Nash would like to see a major tune-up.

“;That's going to be my running mate,”; Williams said. “;We all gotta be close. We spent a lot of time just talking about the season. He's asked me some questions about the Big East, asked me some questions about D-I. I've told him, and he's told me some stuff about stuff he knows. But for the most part we all gotta be close, especially us guards, we all gotta stick together.”;

One of the guards' primary tasks will be to hit timely 3-pointers. Last year's Rainbows struggled to hit the long ball, and opponents packed in zone defenses on star forward Roderick Flemings as a result.

UH was second-worst in the WAC in scoring offense (64 points per game), last in field goal percentage (42.4), in 3-pointers made (106), attempted (374), and percentage (28.3).

Nationally, UH was 326 out of 330 D-I schools in 3's made per game at 3.5. Turnovers were also a problem, as UH was 294th at 15.9 giveaways per game.

The newcomers are confident in different aspects of their game, and Nash has said previously he could see Lay and Williams on the court simultaneously.

“;Really, I don't consider myself a scorer like that,”; said Lay, who's more of a pass-first guard (16.7 points and 6.5 assists last year). “;I'll make the correct basketball decisions. But hearing all the things that happened on the team (last year), Rod getting triple teamed, and things like that, me being wide open, it's a situation I think I will relish.”;

Added Williams with a grin, “;Oh, it's not going to happen. Rod's not going to be double- and triple-teamed. And if he does, then that's going to be good for us. I'm gonna open the floor up ... wide.”;

Lay converted just under 40 percent of his treys last season while Williams made 40.7 percent of his for the Friars in 2007-08, when he averaged 11 points and 2.2 assists per game.

Williams, who was bound for Oregon State last year before being ruled academically ineligible, feels fortunate to be in a position to help the Rainbows. At his mother's urging, he put in the work in at a community college and got himself back on his feet.

“;To be in this situation this year is just a blessing,”; he said. “;You know what, it really was a lesson learned as far as taking my academics more serious. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I think I ended up in a lot better place.”;