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Hawaii men head to Utah for first road test

With the weather not ideal and the waves not fully cooperating, organizers for both the Maui Women’s Pro and Vans World Cup of Surfing are eyeing better days ahead. Whether or not that means a start today remains to be seen, but both the final women’s Championship Tour contest and the final men’s Qualifying Series contest are still yet to get underway.

But the Hawaii men’s basketball season has begun, and the ‘Bows are off to a solid start with a familiar face back in the mix.

Senior forward Mike Thomas is leading the team in scoring five games into the 2017-18 campaign. Thomas sat out all of last season, redshirting and recovering from a wrist injury suffered during the summer of 2016. That surgery kept him out of action, but its timing did allow him to keep his final season of eligibility intact. Now he’s back on the court and pacing Hawaii with 13.2 points per game.

With a 4-1 record on its initial homestand, Hawaii will head to the mainland this weekend for its first road test at Utah (5-1). It hasn’t been a perfect start for the ‘Bows, but they have found a way to win close games while still looking to solidify a very fluid rotation.

Thomas has had the most experience and success, but he’s essentially new to a team that was completely overhauled from the one he helped win 28 games two seasons ago.

Last year was a challenge for the ‘Bows with virtually no returning players, but coach Eran Ganot’s team managed to go 8-8 in Big West play, finishing 14-16 overall.

Despite the win total being halved, it may have been an even better coaching job. The program’s confidence in Ganot seems to be unquestioned, just a week ago adding another year to his contract to keep him through the 2020-21 season.

But the chemistry that began to re-bloom throughout last year is showing itself in the early stages.

Hawaii isn’t expected to be a very good team, but they play with an energy that has put them in a winning mindset to start the season. The home court is a huge boost as they feed off the energy the crowd supplies for the young squad.

But Thomas, while playing just 21 minutes per game so far, has helped to connect the inexperienced squad to a level of success they had really only seen and heard about. He and senior forward Gibson Johnson are creating a formidable front court that complements each other quite well.

Thomas is a little more of the versatile modern big man, while Johnson is the more traditional center. Combined with Jack Purchase on the perimeter, it’s a trio of forwards that can hurt the opposition in a variety of ways.

Though he’s coming off the bench, Sheriff Drammeh is leading the team in minutes per game. He’s still perfecting his “do a bit of everything” style of play, but his defense and energy are both what keep the team going on a nightly basis.

This first road game is a big challenge and a tough environment against a power conference opponent. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Hawaii struggle in such a setting, but they’ve had a surprising confidence to their play so far.

The talent level isn’t what it was two years ago, but the belief seems to be creeping back.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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