Nash Era At UH Is Winding Down

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - January 13, 2010
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The University of Hawaii has entered its winter of discontent. The clouds have lowered upon the house of Stan Sheriff, and in the deep bosom of the ocean the program is being buried.

And fans are in a state of revolt. Head coach Bob Nash entered the season with the tempered support of athletic director Jim Donovan, who made public the level of success needed for Nash to receive an automatic one-year contract rollover. His current deal runs through the 2010-2011 season. The goal - 18 wins or a post-season tournament - was fair. The Rainbow Warriors averaged 16.7 wins over the length of Riley Wallace’s tenure and 19.2 over his final seven.

With 21 home games, the WAC tournament and four post-season tournaments that provide a venue for one-third of all Division 1 basketball teams to extend their seasons, opportunity exists. As mandates go, it wasn’t exactly a trap.

Unfortunately for Nash, one of the university’s most well-liked coaches, the chances of achieving either of those benchmarks are slim, which means we could be seeing the downside of Nash’s long association with the university.

As of this writing (Jan. 8), UH is 8-7 with 15 games remaining before the WAC tourney begins. Outside of Louisiana Tech, which at the same date was 14-2, the conference is a wash of mediocrity. Utah State, which was picked to lead the conference in the coaches and media polls, is off to a notso-impressive 10-6 mark, including 0-2 in conference.

If UH can split its remaining games, which is unlikely, and get one WAC tourney victory, Nash would finish the season with 16 victories - a three-game improvement over last year and five more than his first season. Unfortunately, the road has not been kind to the university. Under Nash, UH is 4-17 away from home and 13-21 against conference opponents.

While he wouldn’t reach the bench mark set by his supervisor, Nash deserves the rollover. Not because of the consistent yet slow improvement, but because injuries have hijacked what should have been a 18-19 win season. A victory total south of 14 would make any extension a hard sell to an already disinterested at best and angry at worst fan base.

The loss of Bill Amis sabotaged the season. A year ago, as a junior forward, he was the team’s second-best scorer and leader in rebounds and blocked shots. He provided much-needed leadership and was most effective on midrange jumpers. Injuries to Roderick Flemings and Petras Balocka also took their toll. But just as the cliché says, you don’t make excuses for injuries.

The Rainbow Warriors have not made the necessary improvement one would expect from a senior-laden team. And unlike the injuries, this is the direct responsibility of the head coach. The team often lacks fire, turns the ball over far too often, is slow to rotate on post defense and seems lost on how to advance the ball against the press. Such play is a recipe for disaster, not to mention unemployment.

A second problem confronting the program is the cycle of constant rebuilding. UH lost five players following the 2007-2008 season. This year the team will lose five more, who combined for 59.7 percent of the scoring and 72.4 percent of the rebounding so far this season. Next season five more, including Amis, point guard Hiram Thompson and guard Dwain Williams, will have to be replaced.

The challenge for Nash following this season will be to find players who can make an immediate impact. This will likely mean more junior college transfers and a continuation of the rebuilding woes. Beyond Amis, Williams and Thompson, the 2010-2011 season appears bleak. Leroy Lutu, a 6-foot-3-inch guard, has shown flashes in limited minutes, but plays a crowded position. Jeremy Lay, who along with Williams was supposed to push Thompson for playing time, has so far proven too inadequate a ball handler to garner much playing time. Center Douglas Kurtz hasn’t shown any offensive skill and, for all his size, doesn’t rebound or block well.

Without a massive turnaround, the 2011 season will be Nash’s last. And that will be a tough call. Not only will Donovan have to get rid of a loyal coach, but a person who over his three-decade association with the university has wowed people with his class and character.

And no one wants that job.

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