Youth, energy and vitality. Those will be the tenets of the University of Hawaii men’s basketball program as it attempts to start fresh in the 2015-16 season.
Incoming head coach Eran Ganot, 33, finished filling out his assistant coaching lineup on Friday with the hiring of Chris Acker, 34. They will be teamed with assistants Norm Parrish and Adam Jacobsen, each with more years of experience but neither as a Division I head coach.
It’s a relatively young staff. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will bear itself out on the court. College and pro basketball have been a bit faster with the ascent of young head coaches than college and pro football, but it’s still something of an old-boys club at the upper levels. This year’s Final Four featured head coaches Mike Krzyzewski (68 years old), Bo Ryan (67), Tom Izzo (60) and John Calipari (56). The reason they were there isn’t because they are older, but because they are four of the best college coaches in history.
Yet young head coaches winning at the collegiate level is typically the exception, and becomes memorable as an anomaly. Shaka Smart took Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four at the age of 34. Brad Stephens took Butler to back-to-back Final Fours when he was 33 and 34 years old. So experience doesn’t always equal success, but it is difficult to gain experience without achieving some success.
So Ganot enters his tenure as the youngest member of his staff, though not by much. The administration hopes he is the steady face it can showcase for years to come. But his immediate task will be to get the returning players to buy into him as their leader. It’s hard to say how the turmoil of the past year will manifest itself under another head coach. The ‘Bows thrived under the uncertainty last season, winning 22 games and coming up just a few minutes shy of an NCAA Tournament bid.
But it’s hard to do that twice in a row, especially when the team was utilizing an “us against the world” mentality instilled by Benjy Taylor. Recreating that when the “us” is no longer the same “us” can be nearly impossible.
The program was dealt a blow when junior college recruit Austin Pope decided to decommit last month and has since committed to North Carolina Central. Pope was a prized recruit but the move wasn’t altogether unexpected, given the precariousness surrounding the program. There haven’t been any defections from the current roster, which has been an issue over the past few seasons – most notably Isaac Fotu, Keith Shamburger and Joston Thomas, among others. But losing Pope, who was a high school teammate of returning junior Aaron Valdes, removes one potential upgrade piece.
So the faces who came out of relative obscurity last season – Valdes, Roderick Bobbitt, Negus Webster-Chan, Isaac Fleming, Stefan Jankovic – will now get the band back together, but with a new conductor. One they probably hadn’t heard of and probably hadn’t had any dealings with.
Young leadership can be a good thing if the team had been upset with the previous stuck-in-the-mud, set-in-his-ways head coach and wanted a breath of fresh air. That didn’t seem to be the case, as Taylor appeared to be the fresh voice to which the team responded. If that was the case and there is some resentment from the players, a young coaching staff may quell that sentiment by being able to relate to the players, but they may also find themselves run over like substitute teachers.
We’ll see which is the case once class is in session.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.