Wallace: NCAA Dreamin’

Bobby Curran
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Friday - May 21, 2005
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University of Hawaii basketball coach Riley Wallace recently reached an agreement in principle on a two-year extension of his contract with athletics director Herman Frazier. Already the dean of WAC coaches, Wallace will have served 20 years as head coach when the extension expires in 2007. We decided to ask him some questions about his tenure here and the future of Rainbow Warrior Basketball.

Bobby Curran: Did you ever think you’d stay in Hawaii for 20 years as head coach?

Riley Wallace: No. When I left after six years as an assistant to Larry Little, I never thought I’d come back. I even took all my retirement funds out. But when Stan (former A.D. Sheriff) called to offer me the job, I never thought of it as a stepping stone. I wanted to be here.

B.C.: Has the college game changed in these last two decades?

R.W.: Yes, it has. The scouting and preparations are much more thorough. We used to get a scouting service report that was pretty general. Now, you have tape exchanges, and everybody knows what everybody else is doing. Also, players are less respectful of authority. They see so much basketball on TV that their expectations about playing time and their roles become oftentimes unrealistic; not to mention the level of parental involvement.

B.C.: You’re at an age where many coaches decide to retire. You obviously don’t do it just for the money. What drives you to keep going?

R.W: First of all, there are more older coaches out there than you’d think. I still have the energy and the desire to see this program advance. We want to get back to the NCAA tournament and win there.

B.C: People always talk about bringing the program to the next level. Where do you see UH basketball now?

R.W: In many ways, we’re already at the next level. We can compete with anyone in the country at home. Scheduling is so tough now. It used to be that marquee programs were lining up to come here. Now they think twice. We tried to get Kentucky to play us on their way to Maui but they didn’t want to risk a loss. That’s respect. But we could improve our road performance, so you could say being able to win consistently on the road might be the next level for us.

B.C.: What do you expect for the upcoming season?

R.W.: This next year we can be really good. We’ll contend for the WAC title, and think we can win it. After this season we’ll lose a lot, so then we’ll see.

B.C.: Your grand nephew is a terrific player in Arizona. Have you thought about staying long enough to coach him?

R.W.: He talks about it. Kendall is the second-best point guard in Arizona, and just led his team to the big school state title. He’ll be a junior this year, and always wears his Rainbow Warrior gear. It would be great to coach him.

B.C.: How do you rate the new WAC?

R.W.: It’ll be a great basketball conference. UTEP is a big loss, but Utah State has been in the top 25 the last couple years so that’s an even swap. And New Mexico State just hired Reggie Theus, and that program should get back to where it was. The travel should be easier and I think we can compete very well in this group.

B.C.: How would you like to be remembered after your career here?

R.W.: As someone who helped get people excited about Hawaii basketball again. When you walk a recruit into the Sherrif Center, it’s big time. And it’s loud during games. I don’t think this staff has ever gotten the credit for how tough this situation is with the geography and lack of a local recruiting base. They recognize it nationally, but not so much locally.

B.C.: What would you like to be the capstone of your coaching career, the dream?

R.W.: Getting to the Final Four. I know people will say it’s a huge long shot, but it’s not impossible. I think if you don’t still have that dream it’s time to get out of the business.

Applications are being accepted for the 2005 UH Rainbow Boys and Girls Basketball camp for ages 5-17. Cost is $150 per session. Call 956-6501.

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