Lots To Cheer In PacWest Hoops
Wednesday - January 02, 2008
If you’re looking for excitement to start out the local sports scene during the first week of the new year, plan to check out the opening of the 2008 men’s basketball race in the Pacific West Conference.
This year’s PacWest title chase may be one of the most exciting in years.
BYU-Hawaii was tabbed as the pre-season favorite by the coaches, and the Seasiders more than lived up to their high-scoring reputation during the non-conference season. With 6-foot-9-inch Brazilian phenom Lucas Alves leading the way by averaging nearly 27 points a game, BYU-Hawaii put up incredible numbers - scoring 110 and 114 in two exhibition games, then 107, 103, 103 and 102 in four of their first regular season victories.
But the Seasiders, who went 5 and 2 during their non-conference stretch, have a tremendous challenge to begin conference play. They open up on the road with two games at Notre Dame de Namur (near San Francisco) followed by a single date at Grand Canyon University (in Phoenix).
Notre Dame de Namur (5-4 in the non-conference season) is coached by former Kailua High School standout George Puou, while Grand Canyon (5-2) won the PacWest title last year by a single game over BYU-Hawaii. Both the Seasiders and the Antelopes represented the conference in the NCAA tournament.
Hawaii Pacific (3-5) also has the challenge of a conference-opening road trip with two games at Grand Canyon. The Sea Warriors are a much-improved team this year under head coach Darren Vorderbruegge, but they’ve been hampered by injuries to their two big men, 6-foot-10-inch Misha Radojevic and 6-foot-9-inch Logan Wolf. Justonn Smith, Rishi Kakad and Ryan Walker have been trying to pick up the scoring slack.
The home games for Hawaii teams are on the Big Island and Oahu, as Dixie State College of St. George, Utah, the confer-ence’s newest member, comes calling against the University of Hawaii at Hilo and then at Chaminade.
It all starts on Wednesday night (Jan. 2) when UH Hilo (3-3) hosts Dixie State (4-6). The Rebels have one of the top scorers in 6-foot-7-inch Kasey Winters, who formerly played at Division I Idaho State. The fact that Winters is a battler under the boards should come as no surprise; he’s the grandson of former middleweight boxing champion Gene Fullmer, a boxing great famous for his two victories over Sugar Ray Robinson.
UH-Hilo is coached for the 10th season by popular former UH Warrior assistant Jeff Law. Law’s Vulcan team went 3-3 during the non-conference season led by former Kalaheo all-state star Sam Wilhoite. Big Sam, at 6 feet 7 inches tall, is averaging right around 12 points and 10 rebounds a game. Another former Kalaheo star, Theo Fujita, is a reserve guard for the Vulcans.
Dixie State then flies over to Oahu for two weekend dates (Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 4-5) against Chaminade at McCabe Gym in Honolulu. Chaminade (5-4) lived up to its reputation as the so-called “Giant Killers” by knocking off Princeton (and coming close against Marquette and LSU) in the Maui Invitational to start the 2007-2008 season. The Silverswords are led by a fearsome foursome of Rodrick Johnson (16 points a game), Stewart Kussler (13 points a game with a high game of 30), Hayden Heiber (11 points a game) and Marco Kolaric, the 7-foot giant from Serbia who is averaging in double figures in both points and rebounds.
It all adds up to a terrific race for the PacWest men’s basketball championship. And to give a big boost to the excitement, the conference begins its second season of women’s basketball play, too. Grand Canyon hopes to defend its title after racking up 23 victories against just four losses a year ago. The race for the best between the four local women’s programs - HPU, Chaminade, BYU-Hawaii and UH-Hilo - should be an exciting one.
For the latest results and upcoming schedules, check out the conference web-site at www.pacificwestsports.org. See you at the games.
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