Basketball Fun Is Back In Manoa

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 04, 2012
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Junior Joston Thomas is a big reason for UH’s success. AP photo

The Rainbow Warriors found themselves down 11 to a school whose coach said would have to play a perfect game to win.

South Carolina State wasn’t without fault, but hit its open jumpers and took advantage of holes in the UH defense on drives to the basket.

For those first 15 minutes, UH looked nothing like the team that won two out of three at the Diamond Head Classic the weekend before. It looked like the team that played at the Stan Sheriff Center a month ago, confused and playing down to the level of the competition. Toward the end of that early season run at mediocrity, a conversation with a colleague brought up the suggestion the team was worse than the year before. His wasn’t the only voice of disproval. It was easy to see that on paper this team should have been much better, but wasn’t playing to its collective ability.

In hindsight, perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising a team featuring new players while waiting for a key ingredient to return from an earlier commitment would struggle early.

Against SCS, just as it had during the Diamond Head Classic, UH flipped the switch in the second half as the Rainbow Warriors went on a 44-11 run on their way to an eventual 27-point victory.

One would be foolhardy to think it’s going to be this easy for Manoa once WAC play begins, but there is good reason to believe the No. 4 preseason conference ranking may have underestimated the team’s ability, if not its focus.

Since his first day on campus, head coach Gib Arnold said success would be determined on how well the players executed their roles. While some understood this from the start, others took longer to adjust.

No player better exemplifies the changeover than forward Joston Thomas. Always blessed with physical talent, the D.C. native struggled to find his place on the team and how to adapt his style of play to the bigger and quicker college game. He’s figured it out, and has bounced from important cog to minor contributor to an impact player. Where he once played with just aggression, he has now brought intelligence into the mix. His decision-making is better, as are his outside shooting and effectiveness around the basket.

Perhaps as important is that the joy is back. A year ago, Thomas was the guy who roared after a dunk then danced with the cheerleaders after the game. He lost that after his minutes fell. That attitude is back, and UH needs that influx of aggressive playfulness to counteract his more introverted teammates.

Miah Ostrowski’s return from football exile, Zane Johnson’s shooting and Hauns Brereton’s sudden explosion all have helped in Hawaii’s sudden turnaround, but had it not been for solid post play by Vander Joaquim, the team would be minus .500 and looking up. Joaquim still waits too long before passing out of double teams, but his development has been remarkable.

A year ago the Angola native had little touch around the basket, was frequently out of position and was a black hole once receiving a pass. Fast forward 12 months and the guy can work the baseline in both directions. He is a good rebounder, is the team’s best post defender, shoots better than 70 percent from the line, and is playing with an attitude all big men need.

Perhaps best of all is that the turnaround has energized a disinterested fan base that is starting to come out in greater numbers and to show enthusiasm at levels not heard in years.

This does more than inspire hometown players and disrupt visitor communication, it helps the department’s bottom line. And that may be the greatest benefit of all.

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