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Rainbows know they need to win now


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POSTED: Sunday, November 08, 2009

Time to make a last stand.

The six seniors on the Hawaii basketball team have one final year to leave their mark on a Rainbow Warriors program searching for a winning identity under third-year coach Bob Nash.

There's no time to waste, whether it's swingman Roderick Flemings looking to showcase himself to NBA talent scouts or Adhar Mayen, Paul Campbell and Bill Amis hoping to taste Western Athletic Conference glory in their third year as Rainbows. Petras Balocka and Brandon Adams also hope to make good on their potential after a disappointing debut.

All are hunting for redemption after a bitter finish to the 2008-09 season. UH battled to 13-12 with a clutch road win at Fresno State on Feb. 19, then stumbled horribly by losing its ESPN BracketBusters game at home to lowly UC Irvine and dropping its final four WAC regular-season contests. To top off the frustration, UH fell to Fresno in the play-in game of the WAC tournament in Reno, Nev., by squandering a late lead (like so many other games last year) to finish at 13-17 (5-11 WAC).

After four consecutive postseason appearances from 2001 to '04, UH made it a five-year drought on a team with no seniors for the first time in the modern era.

So while the Rainbows counted on those six for heavy production—they combined for 71.8 percent of the team's scoring and 69.9 percent of its rebounding—they know that more is expected in their final go-around.

And there's a genuine sense among the players that they can deliver.

“;It's just a lot more experience,”; said Campbell, a 6-foot-10 center, who was UH's most improved player. “;Last year, I know a lot of guys like me and Adhar, even (former UH point guard) Kareem (Nitoto) when he was here, didn't play a lot their first year out here. We got time last year to get used to it. Now, it's just comfort, really. Lot more comfortable out there.”;

That shouldn't be confused with complacency. There's an urgency to improve, starting from the top with Nash's 18-win benchmark to kick in a one-year contract extension for 2011-12.

With the 'Bows' frontcourt fully stocked with players who know Nash's expectations and the flex offense, the task of integrating new guards Dwain Williams and Jeremy Lay and center Douglas Kurtz was made easier. (Although all three were hampered by injuries in the preseason, causing them to miss one or both exhibitions).

“;We have six seniors this year, but when you look at those seniors they've all been starters at one time or another in our program,”; Nash said. “;I think that gives us the added experience that we need to just prepare for the season. Our learning curve (was) a lot shorter, we only got three guys that we really gotta get up to speed for this year, and all the other guys have a good feel for the offense. We just gotta put more intensity, more thought into what we're doing. Having six seniors really helped that process along. They know what to expect, and they know how to talk to the new guys about what to expect. So that's a good thing for us.

“;All these guys didn't just sit back and not do anything all summer,”; he added. “;They anticipated coming back and having a great senior year, and I think to a man they've all improved.”;

Unfortunately for the Rainbows, almost every team in the WAC brought back its primary weapons and added complementary pieces around them. The exception is conference champ Utah State, which lost WAC Player of the Year Gary Wilkinson, yet still returns a solid supporting cast. The Aggies were tabbed to win the league again in preseason polls, while the Rainbows were picked last by both the coaches and media.

Still, with returning juniors like point guard Hiram Thompson and the new guard tandem of Lay and Williams to support the senior-laden 'Bows, Balocka knows the time to strike is now.

“;I'm trying to win the most I can because last year didn't work out the way I wanted it to,”; the Lithuanian said. “;Now hopefully I make the best year I can this year because this is it. I know we got a lot of people injured (in the preseason), but whoever's left, go hard and no excuses, that's how we look at it.”;

 

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SIX SENIORS STANDING

A look at the UH basketball team's class of 2010:

Brandon Adams, F, 6-7, 220, Seattle
Athletic reserve transferred from Diablo Valley JC (Calif.) and started six games ... averaged 4.7 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting and 2.9 rpg ... played in 29 of 30 contests ... 12 clutch points in win at Fresno State on Feb. 19.

Bill Amis, F, 6-9, 220, Oklahoma City
De facto team captain in second year out of Pratt CC (Kan.) led UH in FG percentage (46.8) rebounds (6.4) and blocks (41). Second on team at 10.7 ppg and double-doubles (three) ... had game-winning free throws vs. Iowa State and game-winning jumper vs. LaTech.

Petras Balocka, F/C, 6-8, 250, Lithuania
Well-traveled transfer from Pensacola JC (Fla.) averaged 8.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg in first season with Rainbows ... led team in scoring three games and rebounding 10 games ... notched 21 points and 10 rebounds at Illinois and matched those numbers vs. Chicago State.

Paul Campbell, C, 6-10, 215, Toronto
In second year at UH out of Arkansas-Fort Smith JC, was team's Most Improved Player ... started 19 of final 20 games of season ... averaged 2.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg in 13.4 mpg ... second on team with 22 blocks ... went for career highs of 13 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks vs. LaTech.

Roderick Flemings, F, 6-7, 210, Dallas
All-WAC second-teamer out of Weatherford College (Texas) was named UH's Most Outstanding Player with averages of 16.6 ppg, 36 mpg, 5.8 rpg and 46.6 percent shooting ... tabbed to the league preseason second team in 2009-10 ... went for career-high 37 points vs. Eastern Washington.

Adhar Mayen, F, 6-8, 195, Pflugerville, Texas
Native of Khartoum, Sudan, played in all 30 games, averaging 4.3 ppg and 1.9 rpg ... made 16 starts ... went for career-high 13 points vs. LaTech on Jan. 5 ... one of six foreign-born players on team ... arrived at UH via Hill College, Texas.

 

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ANALYZING THE ENEMIES

Rainbow Warriors beat writer Brian McInnis breaks down the opponents (All times HST):

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
DateTime OpponentComment
11/13/097:35 p.m.Southern Utah #Thunderbirds of the Summit League are first of three first-time opponents on UH's slate. G/F Davis Baker (17.4 ppg) is top returnee. UH is 0-2 in season openers (both at home) under coach Bob Nash.
11/15/095:05 p.m.McNeese State #First of three Southland Conference foes this year returns one of two double-digit scorers from last season (G Diego Kapelan). The Cowboys, from Lake Charles, La., haven't faced UH since 1991.
11/16/0911 p.m.Northern Colorado #Final game of reformatted Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic doubles as UH's second straight late-night appearance in ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon. Bears of Big Sky Conference are second first-time foe on slate.
11/20/097:05 p.m.Brigham YoungLone UH nonconference opponent to make NCAA Tournament last year (25-8). First meeting with old rival since it ditched WAC for Mountain West in 1999. Cougars return two of top three players (Jimmer Fredette and Jonathan Tavernari).
11/27/098:05 p.m.New MexicoLobos have second-most wins against UH (40) among all opponents, next to Utah's 47. Second straight WAC-to-MWC foe has one senior and double-digit scorer, Ramon Martinez, from last year's NIT team (22-12).
12/02/095:05 p.m.at UC IrvineReturn game from last year's demoralizing ESPN BracketBusters loss at home, in which unknown Anteaters reserve Chad DeCasas stunned UH with 19 points. Lone nonconference road game for Rainbows.
12/06/095:05 p.m.LamarCardinals of Beaumont, Texas, and the Southland Conference last met UH in the 2003 Rainbow Classic. LU is reloading after losing four starters (including its top three scorers) from last year's 15-15 team.
12/09/097:05 p.m.ChaminadeOnly the fourth regular-season meeting with Division II Silverswords over the last 30 years, with the last in the 2003 Maui Invitational semifinals (won by UH). 'Swords reloaded with five former D-I players.
12/12/097:05 p.m.Chicago StateRematch of last year's contest in Honolulu, but Cougars lost volume scorer David Holston (fourth in NCAA at 25.9 ppg, first in 3-pointers made at 147). CSU, a former D-I independent, is a member of the new Great West Conference.
12/22/097:30 p.m.College of Charleston *UH's first game in inaugural Diamond Head Classic is the Rainbows' second ESPN-televised contest of the season (ESPNU). Southern Conference Cougars earned first postseason appearance in six years by making CBI last season (27-9).
12/23/096:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.SMU or UNLV*Rainbows guaranteed third national TV game (ESPN2 or ESPNU) vs. either the Runnin' Rebels or Mustangs—two more former WAC members.
12/25/09TBAN'eastern/St. Mary's/W. Michigan/USC *First Christmas Day game for UH since 1984 win vs. Cornell in Rainbow Classic. Matchup with USC would be only BCS/power conference opponent for Rainbows during season.
12/28/097:05 p.m.Northwestern StateDemons of Natchitoches, La., make third trip to islands since 2005. G Michael McConathy, son of coach Mike McConathy, is a top returnee at 8 ppg and 4 apg. UH hasn't lost to NWS in three meetings.
1/02/107:05 p.m.IdahoRainbows look to lock down All-WAC point guard Mac Hopson at home again. Last year, 'Bows blew out Vandals and held Hopson well below his 16.3 ppg/6 apg averages. UH has dropped three straight WAC openers.
1/04/107:05 p.m.Boise StateBroncos return WAC leader in field-goal percentage, Kurt Cunningham (67.3) and all-defensive teamers Ike Okoye and Anthony Thomas. BSU pulled away late in Honolulu last year in first of many letdowns for UH.



#—Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic *—Diamond Head Classic

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
DateTime OpponentComment
1/09/105 p.m.at Fresno StateOne of two WAC road wins for 'Bows last year. Rod Flemings recorded 22 points and 12 boards in victory. Bulldogs' returning forwards Paul George and Sylvester Seay were one of WAC's top scoring tandems (29.6 ppg).
1/11/104 p.m.at Utah StateUH won at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in NIT contest in 2004, but is 0-4 in WAC games at USU since. Last year's WAC champs (30-5) lost player of the year Gary Wilkinson (17.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) but are still tabbed to repeat.
1/17/107:05 p.m.San Jose StateOne of five WAC teams to sweep UH home-and-home in 2009. In Honolulu, Spartans ended an 11-game losing streak to UH behind 19 points from G Justin Graham. SJSU returns five of top six scorers.
1/21/107:05 p.m.New Mexico StateAggies are lone team in WAC to return all five starters, led by G Jahmar Young (17.9 ppg) and Jonathan Gibson (14.1 ppg). Potent NMSU led league in scoring (76.3 ppg) and steals per game (7.22).
1/23/107:05 p.m.Louisiana TechUH's third opponent of season from the Pelican State. Besides Fresno, UH's only sweep victim last year. LaTech alum/NBA legend Karl Malone serves as director of basketball promotions.
1/28/105 p.m.at San Jose St.Closest meeting of same WAC team in days apart (11) for UH. Adrian Oliver (17.1 ppg) hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds left to give SJSU 61-59 victory in San Jose last year. Spartans haven't posted a winning or .500 record since 2001.
1/30/105:05 p.m.at NevadaRainbows have never won in 12 tries vs. Wolf Pack at Lawlor Events Center. UN has six straight 20-win seasons but a new coach in Michael Carter. F Luke Babbitt (16.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is preseason player of the year. ESPN2-televised game.
2/06/108:05 p.m.Fresno StateUH beat Fresno on Feb. 19, then lost final five of season (including a heartbreaker to Bulldogs in WAC tourney play-in game). Free-shooting FSU led WAC in 3-pointers made for three straight years.
2/13/104 p.m.at Louisiana TechRainbows won in Ruston, La., on a Petras Balocka tip-in at the buzzer to beat the Bulldogs at the horn twice in one season. UH snapped a 10-game road skid. LaTech senior G Kyle Gibson has already topped 1,000 career points.
2/15/104 p.m.at New Mexico StateAggies prevailed in Las Cruces in a scoring duel between Flemings (27 points) and Young (25) last year. Pan American Center is one of two WAC sites where Rainbows haven't beaten hosts.
2/20/10TBAESPNU BracketBustersRainbows are 3-4 in BracketBusters games going back to 2003, including 1-2 at home. UH has been paired with a Big West Conference opponent in each of the last three years and is also 1-2 against them.
2/25/107:05 p.m.Utah StateStew Morrill has guided Aggies to 10 straight postseason appearances and 10 straight 20-win seasons, but is 1-10 in NCAA/NIT games over those years. USU led nation in FG percentage (49.6) in 2008-09.
2/27/107:05 p.m.NevadaAll-WAC performer Armon Johnson, one of the top returning point guards in WAC (15.5 ppg, 4.4 apg), hit the game-winning shot in Honolulu last year. Babbitt, last year's WAC freshman of the year, shot 42.9 percent on 3-pointers.
3/04/104:05 p.m.at Boise State'Bows haven't won at Boise since 2006. BSU has a five-game winning streak over UH, and Broncos are 47-9 at home over last three seasons. G Thomas set school record with 151 assists last year.
3/06/103:05 p.m.at IdahoVandals' nine WAC wins last year was most since joining the league, and third-place finish was highest. UI had fifth-best RPI improvement in country (299 to 135), and made first postseason tourney since 1990.
3/11/10TBAat WAC tournament, Reno, Nev.No play-in game this year means Rainbows must finish in top eight during regular season to qualify. UH hasn't won a WAC tourney game since 2005 over San Jose State, and hasn't won the title since '02.

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Rainbow Warriors Facts, Figures

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Stan Sheriff Center Tickets/Parking

» Tickets: Season tickets range from $120 for students to $370. Single-game tickets range from $5 for students to $26 for most games. For Monday's 11 p.m. Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic general admission game against Northern Colorado, lower-level seats are $10, upper level senior citizens and student tickets are $5, and upper-level UH students get in for free.

» Parking: $5 in the UH parking structure » Arena: Stan Sheriff Center: Capacity 10,300

 

About The Rainbow Warriors

» Head coach: Bob Nash, third year (24-36)

» Assistants: Jackson Wheeler, 20th year, Larry Farmer, third year; Eran Ganot; third year

» Rainbow Warriors 2008-09: 13-17 (5-11 WAC)

» Signature wins: Iowa State, Louisiana Tech, at Louisiana Tech, Idaho, at Fresno State.

» Painful losses: Cal State Fullerton, Colorado State, UC Irvine, at San Jose State, Nevada, vs. Fresno State (WAC tournament)

 

Contributors

Sports Editor: Paul Arnett | Reporter: Brian McInnis | Designers: Michael Rovner, Steven Berkowsky | Copy Editors: Sjarif Goldstein, Jerry Campany | Photographer: Craig T. Kojima | Columnist: Dave Reardon