Wallace still basks
THE magic ride, it seems, is not over yet. The Hawaii men's basketball banquet Thursday is already sold out, more than 500 people want to re-live it all one last time. At the Honolulu Quarterback Club, Riley Wallace gets a standing ovation. And he's still telling Savo stories, still floating on air.
The General, Les Keiter, in one of his gravely thunderous Quarterback Club classics, barks that excitement about Rainbow basketball has, "reached a zenith I have never seen before."
And so, with a crushing loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it was due for a fall. But surprisingly, not yet. Not yet.
Wallace is still basking in the sunshine of his greatest team, speaking wistfully about specialness and relationships, how Mike McIntyre grew in the program. How the guys "hugged him whether he made (shots) or he missed."
Wallace beams with the story of Predrag Savovic taking his father -- "if Savo's a man," Wallace says, "he's a double man" -- and proudly showing him everything, every place, every person he's encountered in Hawaii. A delightful image, the two of them, going all over Oahu hugging people. "If they haven't come to your house yet," Wallace says, "it's because Savo forgot where you live."
The season is still with them. The magic ride is not over yet.
And then the coach makes the mistake that all coaches say they will never make, but all of them do. He listened to the radio.
"They have no trust in you," he says of some callers. "I've been here 15 years."
Yes, the pain is still there, too, under the surface if you prick just a little. The terrible pain that we saw in a photo in this paper, a stupefied Wallace dragging his jaw back to the locker room. It hurts. Oh, how it hurts, it still hurts that it all ended that way for this group.
"I feel sorry for my team because they're better than that," Wallace says.
And, "That was the ugly side of us that showed up."
And, "They gave me everything they had, every single night."
You'd think it would kill him, this sadness. You'd think it would defeat them all. But that's life, and that's basketball, and somehow, through the weeks, the magic has bloomed anew. The excitement of their greatest season is still there, in their memories, in the smiles and in Mr. Savovic's hugs.
And it's better now, in a way. They can savor it now, and appreciate their ride for the magic that it was.
In the thick of things, it was a white-hot bolt of lightning. Now it's a soft, warm, sunset glow.
"This is probably the closest team since the Fabulous Five days," Wallace says.
"Some of them will make Hawaii their home."
It really was a great story. And if 500 people want to hear it one more time, and smile and laugh, and hug Savo's dad, then it can't be over yet. Not yet. For Wallace and his boys, the bandwagon is rolling on.
"Get on it and ride it, because it's fun right now," he says. "And we need you."
Wallace is still riding it. He's still on that wave.
Kalani Simpson can be reached at email@example.com