Wednesday, February 21, 2001
A show aboutIT'S fitting, considering they grew up during the Seinfeld years.
The 'clowns' in Manoa have
made their marks ... and had
a great time doing it
By Dave Reardon
The four seniors of the University of Hawaii men's basketball team are all intelligent, funny guys -- dry-wit artists also capable of occasional slapstick and pranks (ask team manager Mike McDivitt about his plaster of Paris "dye-job").
They're just like Jerry and his gang, but much nicer people -- and winners. Hawaii is 29-24 during the two-year tenure of frontcourt players Todd Fields (Mesquite, Texas), Lane O'Connor (Vancouver, Wash.), Troy Ostler (West Valley City, Utah) and Nerijus Puida (Sakiu Raj, Lithuania).
Tomorrow they take their final bows as 'Bows at the Stan Sheriff Center, as Hawaii (12-12, 6-7 Western Athletic Conference) hosts Texas Christian (18-8, 7-5).
"Those four guys, they're clowns," sophomore guard Lance Takaki said of the three roommates and the buddy (Puida) who hangs with them when not with his wife, Dainora.
Or, as Fields said: "All of us were best friends from the day we got here. We like to give each other crap and laugh, but that's what makes it fun."
Unlike Seinfeld, though, their run was hardly a show about nothing.
Yes, two had to learn to live with "No PT for you." But it never affected their attitudes, nor their relationships with teammates who play regularly.
"I guess I could have talked to the coaches about playing more," O'Connor said. "But I don't believe in complaining."
At first glance, the contributions of Fields and O'Connor this season appear negligible. Fields has played 57 of a possible 965 minutes, and O'Connor only 63.
But go to practice and you see how they earn their scholarships. They are tireless scout team members, simulating the opposition after quickly learning their tendencies.
At 7-feet tall, Fields can impersonate any center in the nation, preparing starting posts Ostler and Phil Martin for what they will face in the game. Fields is the emotional leader of the scout team. Last season he battled through the death of his stepfather, former NFL quarterback Steve Ramsey.
Because he is a dead-eye shooter from any range, the 6-7 O'Connor often plays the role of the next foe's long-range bomber. The week he mimicked Jason Kapono, the Rainbows got a strong taste of what was in store from UCLA's high-scoring forward.
As for Ostler and Puida, neither was projected for stardom when they arrived at Manoa. Today, strong arguments could be made for either as Hawaii's most valuable player.
O'Connor had his best game -- by far -- at TCU last year. He scored 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
"I was just open," he said. "I kept hitting my shots and finding myself open."
O'Connor's legacy will have more to do with the classroom than the hardwood, and he will be remembered for as long as coach Riley Wallace maintains his current hairstyle.
Last semester, O'Connor earned a 4.0 grade point average, meaning Wallace had to live up to a promise to let the players cut off nearly all his hair.
Puida, another outstanding student-athlete, participated in the shearing.
"I'm going to miss the guys, the atmosphere, the games of course," he said. "Even practice is fun."
The small forward has started all 53 games since last season. Casual fans are only realizing why now.
This season, the 6-5 Puida leads UH in assists (4.6 apg), and has been the top rebounder seven times (5.8 rpg). If there is anything wrong with his game, it is that he doesn't use his sweet outside shot more often; he could easily average more than his 8.8 ppg.
"He's the glue," Wallace has said often of the most unappreciated Rainbow. "He has no bad habits."
Ostler, who built himself up with weights in the off-season, is the most improved of the seniors. He wasn't highly recruited out of junior college, but is now touted as a potential NBA player.
He has a soft outside touch and runs and passes well for his 6-10 height.
Ostler averages 16 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks a game, despite a mid-season ankle sprain that caused him to miss three games and limited his participation in four others.
Wallace commended Ostler's defense in the recent victories over Southern Methodist and Rice.
While Wallace acknowledges what all four have done for the basketball team, he appreciates even more what they have done for the basketball program.
"They are all outstanding people, Wallace said. "Never a complaint. Never a problem. On or off the court."
They respected -- and earned the respect of -- coaches, teammates, fans and even the team manager.
"I'm close to all four. They treat me like a little brother and look out for me," McDivitt said.
Said assistant coach Jackson Wheeler: "They're all good people. They're the kind of kids you'd be proud of if they were your sons. They're all going to graduate, they have good morals and they all look way beyond basketball.
"I like them all."
TIP-INS:Martin and O'Connor collided in a drill yesterday, and were both shaken up. O'Connor eventually resumed practice, but Martin suffered a sprain of his left ankle and was on crutches. Trainer Jayson Goo said Martin "probably" will be able to play tomorrow. ... The H-1 eastbound University Avenue on-ramp will be closed for resurfacing after 9 p.m. tomorrow. People leaving after the game may be affected.
Ka Leo O Hawaii