By Paul Arnett

Friday, February 5, 1999

Riley’s reversal of
fortune really hurts

MY, how the place has changed.

A year ago, fans entering the Stan Sheriff Center made Duke's Cameron Crazies look like the guards of Buckingham Palace.

It was a loud, raucous, roadhouse crowd, appreciative of the product Hawaii head coach Riley Wallace let loose on the floor. The balloon brigade popped and the Rainbow Dancers rocked. Big-time college basketball was in the house. As Wallace put it, "I don't care what anybody says. These are the greatest fans in the world."

During last night's Western Athletic Conference game with UTEP, the greatest fans in the world were nowhere to be found.

In their places, were 4,000 disillusioned souls, who were forced to sit through a hellish display of costly turnovers, defensive breakdowns and disinterested play that resulted in the 76-66 defeat.

Whatever outside shot Hawaii had of snagging a sixth-place finish and a trip to the WAC tournament next month in Las Vegas, disappeared in a 14-0 run by the Miners in the second half.

Entering tomorrow night's game with No. 19 New Mexico, the Rainbows are a woeful 1-7 in league play and 4-16 for the season. The only place they are going is to the Rainbow Banquet.

THE reasons for this collapse are as obvious as the 359 turnovers the Rainbows have kindly committed this season. Erratic guard play, disgruntled seniors and predictable coaching have resulted in one of Wallace's poorer campaigns.

Granted, he finished 4-25 the 1987-88 season, but this is worse because Hawaii was riding a wave of consecutive 21-win seasons.

Wallace must have known returning seniors Mike Robinson, Erin Galloway and Casey Cartwright were better-suited for supporting roles.

It's true, you don't find a guard tandem like Anthony Carter and Alika Smith in every gym. But you would think the coaching staff could have come up with something better than it got. It's similar to what happened to former UH head football coach Bob Wagner after he won the Holiday Bowl. And everyone knows the ending of that sad story.

Folks around town weren't expecting the moon. Replacing four starters is a trying task. But this reversal of fortune couldn't have come at a worse time.

The football program bottomed out, forcing the Rainbows to spend $2 million to sign June Jones. Now, the men's basketball program has dropped off the charts, leaving the athletic department to search for black ink.

Perhaps Fred vonAppen's dismissal and Jones' ensuing contract are reasons Wallace got a little testy a few weeks ago. If Hawaii was willing to spend $260,000 to pay off vonAppen and throw down major bucks to attract Jones, how safe is Wallace?

The 12-year coach said after the loss to Utah that he would leave if that's what people thought was best for the program, but that would only happen if Hawaii has another year like this one.

WALLACE is already promising a better and brighter tomorrow. He has two talented players waiting in the wings and three promising underclassmen -- Marquette Alexander, Mike McIntyre and Philipp Czernin -- trying to survive their first year in Division I.

Given the current circumstances, perhaps it's best if Wallace develops the youth and lets the seniors come off the bench. Robinson is openly hostile, while Galloway and Cartwright are slowed by illness and injury.

It's unfortunate how things turned out. But given the fragile nature of Hawaii's future in Division I athletics, the Rainbows can't afford another season such as this.

As quickly as Wallace helped build a solid fan base, it only takes a down season or two to send the interest here tumbling. The lost football revenues are a living testament to that.

No, this is no time to fail. Next year, Wallace must put his best sneaker forward before the Stan Sheriff Center becomes the tomb of the unknown program.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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