Johnson wants
more than respect

The San Jose State coach is trying
to get his team to perform
at a higher level

Kuebler and Carter questionable for tonight

By Jason Kaneshiro

It has become a regular feature of the Western Athletic Conference's weekly basketball teleconference for a coach to begin talking about San Jose State by saying something like, "Phil did a great job, but we were fortunate to win."

San Jose State at Hawaii

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

TV: KFVE, live

Radio: 1420-AM, live


With an undersized lineup and a short bench, Spartans coach Phil Johnson has earned the admiration of his fellow coaches by keeping his team competitive. But he isn't satisfied with winning the respect of his peers.

"I'd like to get that turned around where we don't do just a good job, where we can win and win on the road," Johnson said before his team's workout in preparation for tonight's game with Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Although the wins haven't come often this season, Johnson has been refreshed by his return to the college game after three seasons as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bulls.

Johnson coached San Jose State to a 12-16 mark in the 1998-99 season, but left when Tim Floyd offered him a job with the Bulls. Floyd resigned in December 2001 and Johnson left as well.

He then returned to San Jose State when Steve Barnes became the associate head coach at Iowa State.

The Spartans arrived in town for tonight's game with a 5-15 record and are ninth in the WAC. Despite the losses, Johnson isn't pining for his days in the NBA.

"I'm enjoying it more than the pro level," he said. "They're two entirely different worlds. This is more emotional, you can improve your team more through practice, and the kids have better attitudes towards getting better than the pros I've dealt with."

Johnson took over a Spartan program that posted one winning season in the last nine years. His second term in San Jose got off to a tragic start as James Jenkins, who was slated to start at forward or center, died in a hiking accident last May.

Johnson cobbled together a team over the summer and the Spartans got off to a 3-2 start. But Oudie Baker, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, was dismissed after returning late from the holiday break and the Spartans dropped their first four WAC games.

The Spartans then shocked the conference by beating the two teams that tied for the WAC regular-season title last year. They ran Hawaii ragged in a 79-67 victory on Jan. 18 and pulled out a 58-57 win over Tulsa on Jan. 30.

"It meant a lot," Johnson said. "It meant a lot for our guys to see some success and have their hard work rewarded."

Johnson and Hawaii coach Riley Wallace first met on the junior college circuit when Johnson coached at Northern Oklahoma JC and Wallace ran the Seminole JC program. Johnson later succeeded Wallace at Seminole in 1987 when Wallace took over at UH.

"He's a very good coach, good X and O guy," Wallace said. "You have to be ready because he covers every angle out there.

"His players are going to be intense, they're going to play hard and they're going to play his game or they won't be in there. That usually dictates that they're battlers and right there in every ballgame."

With two true freshmen, including a walk-on, in a starting lineup that tops out at 6-foot-5, the Spartans continue to battle, but have struggled to get over the hump.

Since the Tulsa win, the Spartans lost to Rice in overtime, squandered a 10-point halftime lead at SMU and had a shot to tie the game blocked in the final seconds against Louisiana Tech last week.

"It's been bits and pieces of games where we've played really well, we just haven't had a whole lot of games where we played well for 40 minutes," Johnson said.

"We've played everybody tough in the league except (for an 86-59 loss to Nevada), so I'm not discouraged by our record. The record is not really the whole thing this year."

SJSU senior guard Brandon Hawkins leads the team in scoring, and freshman forward Antonio Lawrence has emerged as one of the WAC's bright young players. Freshman walk-on Keith Everage posted double-figures in points and rebounds against Hawaii last month.

The Spartans face a Hawaii team tonight bent on revenge and will be hard-pressed to end the Rainbows' 24-game home winning streak. But should SJSU drop another game, the won-loss total won't shroud Johnson's view of the big picture.

"Our goal has been to try to improve as a basketball team every day, every practice, every game, and I think we have done that since the start of the season," Johnson said.

WAC standings

Conference Overall

W L Pct. GB W L
Fresno St. 10 3 .769 -- 17 5
Nevada 9 3 .750 1/2 14 8
LaTech 8 5 .615 2 11 9
SMU 7 5 .583 2 1/2 12 10
Rice 6 5 .545 3 14 7
Hawaii 6 6 .500 3 1/2 13 7
Tulsa 6 6 .500 3 1/2 13 8
Boise St. 4 8 .333 5 1/2 10 12
SJSU 2 9 .182 7 5 15
UTEP 2 10 .167 7 1/2 4 17


Boise State at Rice
UTEP at Tulsa
SMU at Fresno State
Louisiana Tech at Nevada
San Jose State at Hawaii

Probable starters

San Jose State (5-15, 2-9 WAC)

Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Brandon Hawkins (Sr.) 6-3 11.6 3.8 2.8
G Scott Sonnenberg (Sr.) 5-11 3.7 0.9 2.0
F Brett Lilly (Jr.) 6-5 4.1 1.8 0.5
F Antonio Lawrence (Fr.) 6-4 11.1 6.3 1.3
C Keith Everage (Fr.) 6-5 7.2 5.4 0.6

HAWAII (13-7, 6-6 WAC)

Ht. Pts. Reb. Ast.
G Mark Campbell (Sr.) 6-4 5.5 3.5 6.1
G Michael Kuebler (Jr.) 6-5 12.7 3.0 2.4
G Carl English (Jr.) 6-5 20.6 5.8 2.3
F Phil Martin (Jr.) 6-8 10.0 5.0 0.7
C Haim Shimonovich (Jr.) 6-11 8.7 7.8 2.9

Notes: SJSU has used 14 different starting lineups this season. Hawkins came off the bench for SJSU's game at Louisiana Tech last week. Maurice Moore (2.3 ppg, 2.3 ppg) started in his place. ... UH forward Nkeruwem Akpan is the Rainbows' top reserve (7.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Akpan got the first start of his career last week against SMU. ... Hawaii has won 24 consecutive home games and its last 21 WAC games at the Sheriff Center. UH is the only team in the WAC with a perfect record at home. ... Hawaii leads the series 11-7 and owns a 7-1 advantage in Honolulu.


Kuebler and Carter
questionable for tonight

Hawaii guards Michael Kuebler and Jason Carter suffered sprained ankles during yesterday's practice and their availability for tonight's game with San Jose State is questionable.

Both walked out of the gym, albeit gingerly, after practice and had X-rays taken as a precautionary measure. Both X-rays were negative and UH coach Riley Wallace was optimistic they'll be ready by game time.

Kuebler has started the last 17 games for the Rainbows and is the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.7 points per game. Carter is averaging 4.8 points coming off the bench.

Freshman Ikaika Alama-Francis worked with the first team yesterday at small forward and could see some action regardless of whether Kuebler and Carter are ready.

"He's ready to step up and get a few minutes because he's been working hard and he's a good athlete, and we need that kind of athleticism in the game right now," Wallace said.

If Kuebler and Carter can't play, Wallace said Carl English and Mark Campbell will play more minutes and senior guard Ryne Holliday could fill in for spot duty.

Jason Kaneshiro, Star-Bulletin

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