Star-Bulletin Sports



University of Hawaii basketball coach Riley Wallace, who watched on March 14 as his team prepared to play Xavier in the NCAA Tournament, faces challenges because of two recent NCAA


On the run

UH basketball coach
Riley Wallace has logged
quite a few miles
in pursuit of talent

By Cindy Luis

IT was a great summer for travel miles, but a bad one when it came to NCAA rulings that affect Hawaii basketball.

Rainbow coach Riley Wallace got in last Friday, caught his breath, hired a new assistant coach and then repacked his bags. Wallace, who has traveled from Guam to Lithuania and about a dozen points in between, left yesterday for the Double Pump Coaches/Athletic Directors Retreat at Marina del Rey, Calif.

It's the first time the 61-year-old coach has attended the event, which was started a few years ago by brothers Dana and David Pump to help young coaches advance their careers. Wallace declined an invitation to be one of the guest speakers on a list that includes retired UCLA coach John Wooden, Arizona's Lute Olson, Utah's Rick Majerus, Bob Knight of Texas Tech and current UCLA coach Steve Lavin.

The by-invitation-only coaches will also get in some golf, getting a chance to discuss the repercussions of two issues that were decided this summer: the restrictions placed on foreign athletes -- no professional league experience -- and the upholding of the limit on appearances in exempted tournaments to two in four years.

"It just means we have to go after younger players," Wallace said of recruiting foreign athletes. "If this had been in effect a few years ago, we wouldn't have been able to get players, solid students like a Savo (Predrag Savovic) or Nerijus Puida."

The exempt tournament ruling means that Hawaii still has two spots to fill in this year's Rainbow Classic. Associate head coach Bob Nash said that when the court dragged on for several months, it gave schools hope that the 2-in-4 rule would be lifted.

"We have a number of teams interested in coming, but either there was no wriggle room in their schedule to travel out here or they've used up their exemptions," said Nash.

It's not only affected the Rainbow Classic but also tournaments hosted by Hawaii's Division II schools. Already, Hawaii-Hilo had to scale back its Thanksgiving event from eight teams to four.

"It's even been tough on the Maui Invitational," said Wallace. "They have national television but the problem is there aren't enough teams to go around to fill out all the tournaments.

"For us, because our team is better, a lot of the high-dollar guys don't want to come here and lose. It used to be a vacation trip but now it's not."

Wallace said one thing that may help the Rainbow Classic next year is the tie-in with ESPN and the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Day. The Classic will move from its traditional time slot of after Christmas to the week before.

The Rainbows will travel to Lahaina for the Maui Invitational next year for the first time.

"They've asked us before but we didn't need it for our strength-of-schedule," said Wallace. "The timing is good since it will be the senior year for Carl (English), Haim (Shimonovich) and the other guys.

"The problem with us traveling is the cost. Even if we get a nice guarantee, we spend it traveling. If you're at a school like Centenary, you can go to Auburn for $40,000, get on a bus and come back with $30,000. Here, it doesn't work that way and it doesn't pay to go, not with our financial problems."

Hawaii will make only one mainland trip prior to the Western Athletic Conference season. The Rainbows are at San Diego State Dec. 14, a trip that was originally set up to include a visit to UCLA.

"But it didn't work out," said Wallace. "We're still trying to get UCLA over here for the Rainbow Classic. They've played at BYU-Hawaii (1999) and Maui (2001) but not in the Rainbow.

"People talk about our lack of road games but we had 14 of them last year, counting the NCAA Tournament. We don't have the money to travel more. Everyone in the country would do the same thing if they were us."

Wallace's personal road trip this summer included stops in eight states -- three times to New York -- three countries and one U.S. territory. Still feeling some jet-lag Monday, he was able to rattle off his stops like a train conductor: Guam; Honolulu; New York; Monroe, La.; Indianapolis; New York; Newfoundland, Canada; El Paso; Las Vegas; Dallas; Frankfurt, Germany; Lithuania; Frankfurt; New York; Los Angeles; Honolulu.

He said he particularly enjoyed the visit to Patrick's Cove, Newfoundland, where he shot skeet with English, and the trip to Lithuania, where he was able to see incoming recruit Vaidotas Peciukas play in the European Junior Championships as well as visit with the families of former players Puida and Mindaugas Burneika, both from Lithuania.

"I'm excited about this season," said Wallace, who will begin his 16th year with Hawaii. "We have a good nucleus coming back, some good, new faces, a new coach and new ideas. I'm ready."

UH Athletics

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