The Curious Case Of Rod Flemings
Wednesday - January 13, 2010
At a recent University of Hawaii basketball game, my friend took a few sideways glances at Rainbow Warrior senior Rod Flemings shuffling up and down the court and pronounced that he plays “like he should be wearing a T-shirt that says ainokea.”
That’s pretty harsh, I told him. I try to make it a point to never publicly criticize a student-athlete. The pressures of college, of competition, of injuries, of expectations and more are just too great.
But, truth be told, more than a few UH men’s basketball fans have questioned Flemings’ ability to step up and lead this team, as they thought he could and should. He has shown flashes of brilliance combined with long stretches of frustration and mediocrity.
And more than a few times, he’s practically disappeared within a game.
That’s why some fans honestly think he doesn’t care.
I disagree. I think Flemings cares deeply. He just may not know how to show it.
“We talk to him a lot,” says head coach Bob Nash. “I have my assistant Eran Ganot sit down and get into his head, to get him to realize the importance of giving full effort out there all the time.”
In Flemings’ last home game, an impressive 76-68 win over Boise State last Monday, the 6-foot-7-inch forward scored a game-high 20 points, including a stretch of seven straight key points that turned the contest around in Hawaii’s favor.
A monster dunk here, a long three-pointer there - that’s the kind of things that local fans had expected from Flemings when Hawaii won the recruiting battle over Kentucky to get him here before last season.
“People get caught up in the numbers, but each player has a different thing that makes him tick,” says Ganot, an assistant with Nash for the past three years. “Rod is a really nice kid, he’s just not a rah-rah guy. Sometimes, he’s painfully quiet.”
It’s those times - when the team needs a vocal leader or an inspiring play - when fans look to Flemings, but his face or his body language doesn’t show what they think it should.
“For Rod, it’s about staying engaged. That’s something we’ve talked with him about,” Ganot says. “He needs to realize that the other guys look up to him. He picks them up - and he picks himself up - when he’s more vocal.”
Ganot, who runs a lot of the drills in practice, tries to help Flemings stay engaged on the practice court.
“I’m a great believer that everything begins in practice, and so we work with Rod even though he’s been bothered by a lot of nagging injuries,” he says. “I kid him that there may be an MRI for his knee, but there’s no MRI for his voice. ‘Your voice is fine,’ I tell him. I have him do drills over again because I tell him, ‘I want to hear you.’”
That’s the kind of encouragement Hawaii’s potential leader needs during this incredibly tough WAC season.
“Before the first (conference) games, I could see a difference,” Coach Nash says. “He was engaged in our drills, and then he played with much more aggressiveness. It’s no secret that when you’re engaged and hungry out there, it makes a difference.”
It definitely made a difference in Hawaii’s first WAC win, and Flemings is now the team’s leading scorer again at about 15 points a game. The ‘Bows will need continued consistency and aggressive leadership from Flemings as they return to Stan Sheriff Center this week for the longest conference home-stand of the season - three games. They face San Jose State Sunday, followed by New Mexico State on Jan. 21 and powerful Louisiana Tech on Jan. 23.
The Hawaii coaching staff will work with Flemings to help him become a more vocal leader.
“I realize that it’s not going to happen overnight, but a little bit at a time,” Ganot says. “Rod needs to recognize when he catches himself in one of those moments that he needs to quickly get back on track. As a staff, we need to watch for it, too. We want him to have the kind of senior season that he wants to have.”
It’s all up to Rod Flemings to openly show how much he cares.
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