Floor chairman


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

It was like a game of telephone with nobody at the end of the line.

Hiram Thompson would order commands to his body, things he knew he was capable of doing on a basketball court. Jump now for a midair pass to an open teammate. Throw a no-look to that specific spot. Move here to take a charge.

Yet his body, fresh off a two-year church mission to Iowa, couldn't answer the call. You name the injury, and the point guard probably suffered from it during his frustrating sophomore season of 2008-09: ravaged hamstrings, a torn groin, a back problem.

The prolonged period without basketball was a great life experience, but also sapped his strength. Communication broke down, both within Thompson and on the court around him. He couldn't be the backcourt savior Hawaii needed after showing flashes of play-making brilliance as a freshman in 2005-06.





        What: First-round game

Who: College of Charleston (5-4) at Hawaii (5-4)


When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.


Where: Stan Sheriff Center




Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM




“;I feel like I've always had that, but last year I wasn't physically ready to make the plays,”; Thompson said. “;Things in my mind I wanted to do, I couldn't do it physically. So I had a lot more turnovers, and I couldn't do what I wanted to do in my mind. But I feel this year I can put them together, my mind and (body) are working together.”;

WHEN THOMPSON started working his magic in December wins over Lamar and Chicago State, his teammates followed suit. There was Roderick Flemings, tapping into his passing ability to whip an assist to Petras Balocka down low. Balocka, in turn, wanted to pay it forward with a kick-out to Adhar Mayen. It was infectious; everyone on the active roster scored in both those games.

Not coincidentally, the Rainbow Warriors (5-4) ride a three-game winning streak heading into the inaugural Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic starting Tuesday against College of Charleston.

Look for the spirit of holiday giving to continue. In three of the past four games, the 6-foot-2 junior has set career highs in assists with eight against UC Irvine, nine against Lamar and nine again vs. Chicago State. Against Chaminade on Dec. 9, he set career bests in points (17) and rebounds (eight), and made a game-changing hard foul to positive result.

“;He makes things happen,”; coach Bob Nash said. “;That's what having a floor general out there who gets the ball to shooters where they can do something with it (does). It's not just being able to pass to a guy—anybody can pass to a guy who's wide open. Being able to get the ball to guys who can do something with it is what Hiram does, and as a result, guys are knocking down wide-open shots or making layups, and that's what you want.”;

There wasn't a whole lot of that going on last year, when a battered Thompson shared point guard duties with Kareem Nitoto (who transferred to UC Riverside). While UH brought in guards Jeremy Lay and Dwain Williams in the offseason to improve the team's guard play, it was the quiet, unassuming Thompson who made the biggest impact.

The stats back it up. As a sophomore, Thompson shot 34.4 percent from the field and averaged 3.9 points per game. His 1.15 assist-to-turnover ratio would make any point guard blush.

Now, he's second in the Western Athletic Conference with five assists per game, first in A/T ratio at 2.6 and seventh in 3-point percentage at 44.4. To boot, his overall shooting percentage (46.9), minutes per game (33.9) and scoring average (9.8) are up considerably.

His assist count (45) through nine games nearly matches last year's total (55) and he's the biggest reason why Hawaii leads the WAC in helpers at 15.7 per game. UH is one of just three teams in the league with more assists than turnovers, along with Utah State and Nevada.

Making the extra pass suddenly became fun again for the Rainbows.

THE ROAD back to relevancy for Thompson wasn't easy or automatic. He had to hit the weight room hard over the summer back home in El Dorado, Calif., to raise his strength back to a Division I level. And he put up shot after shot in the gym to make himself a legitimate 3-point threat—never a strength growing up, including his time at Oak Ridge High.

Thus Thompson—the team captain with Bill Amis out for the year—blossomed into the player the Rainbows need him to be. When he's on the floor, he's constantly pointing, guiding, directing in the flex motion offense, and plays anywhere from point to small forward.

“;I think from the end of the year last year, he's probably had the best offseason, preseason, one or two on our team,”; assistant coach Eran Ganot said. “;Usually that's where you build confidence, and now he has confidence to put it on the court.

“;(He's) incredibly efficient, doesn't take bad shots. He's incredibly important, probably our most important player. He's the guy who runs our team; he's our glue guy.”;

Of course, Thompson won't tell you as much. He shrugs at his own stats, and believes wins are all that really matters. He is still waiting for the team to play two halves of complete ball.

“;When we stick to our offense, guys open up and it makes it easier to find open people, I guess,”; Thompson said. “;Early in the season we were kind of just going off, doing our own things. Just a lot of 1-on-1, but now we're sticking to our stuff and it's just opening up the floor and making everything easier for everybody.”;

It's given fans in the Stan Sheriff Center something to cheer about and a reason for teammates like Balocka to get off the bench and towel wave.

“;To me it's the best thing ever. To me, I enjoy an assist more than a bucket,”; Balocka said. “;Hiram likes it best and we kind of feed off it as a team and stop playing selfish. Make the second and third pass to get a bucket, a hockey assist. It's all about getting in good position and expecting the ball at all times.”;

The man standing at the end of the telephone line is waiting to catch a no-look pass once again.