There have been so many changes, so much upheaval, so many question marks. But considering all the uncertainty and the low expectations, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are off to such a great start to their season as 2014 prepares to shift over to 2015.
The ‘Bows, after a 13-day hiatus since losing to BYU, blew out Chaminade on Friday, 94-63. They then opened up the Diamond Head Classic on Monday with a 66-58 win over Nebraska to move into Tuesday’s semifinal round against 11th-ranked Wichita State. That win over the Cornhuskers was the ninth victory of the season under acting head coach Benjy Taylor. I don’t know how many wins the ‘Bows will finish with this season, but Taylor ought to be considered for various Coach of the Year honors. He won’t be, but he should.
Consider what has occurred within the UH athletic department in just the last two months. Not only has the program been under investigation since January, but head coach Gib Arnold and assistant Brandyn Akana were relieved of their duties just weeks before the season got underway. The team’s best player, forward Isaac Fotu, was deemed ineligible for the season and opted to leave the program and turn professional.
Then athletic director Ben Jay resigned on Dec. 9, which leaves the entire department in a state of uncertainty. Jay will stay on until June, but athletic director hasn’t been a very steady position for UH. Jim Donovan was replaced by Jay after the phantom Stevie Wonder concert fiasco and now the school needs to find a new face who can hopefully add some stability.
But through everything, the ‘Bows have shown perseverance and resiliency. They already have a pair of wins against top tier conferences, first notching a win over the ACC’s Pittsburgh Panthers and now knocking off the Big Ten’s Nebraska. Playing Wichita State, which earned a No. 1 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, is the stiffest test UH figures to face all season but it should be helpful moving forward.
The team got Negus Webster-Chan back for the Nebraska win and he chipped in seven points and five rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Hopefully the sophomore will be able to add some perimeter shooting since Garrett Nevels still hasn’t quite found his stroke from the outside. Nevels was just 2 for 11 from the field against the Huskers and is shooting under 33 percent from three-point range this season. He was over 41 percent last year, which makes the team’s start even that much more impressive considering it figured Nevels would be its best offensive player.
But Coach Taylor has unleashed Aaron Valdes (16.7 points, 7.4 rebounds) and the sophomore is responding. Valdes sort of embodies the season to this point – realizing potential much sooner than anticipated.
The school has already announced that Norm Chow will be back next season. I would think that making the same declarative statement about Coach Taylor, despite the small sample size, would be a wise move. There needs to be some stability and reason for the current players to stay and for potential recruits to become interested.
We’ll see if they opt for that security or if they decide to stay in limbo.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.