The Curious Case of Isaac Fleming

It hasn’t been a perfect coupling since the start, but the relationship between Hawaii basketball and sophomore guard Isaac Fleming came to an abrupt conclusion Monday when he asked for and received his release from the program, effective immediately.

From the outside it certainly seems like strange timing. The Rainbow Warriors are in the final stretch of one of their best seasons ever, earning Big West regular season championship honors and eyeing a chance to gain an NCAA Tournament bid. Only six weeks ago, it seemed that Fleming was a major ingredient to that success when he earned Big West Player of the Week honors. Now he’s searching for a new school.

But the writing seems to have been on the wall. Though it would fade occasionally, as it did during that pair of games in January and while he was playing about 25 minutes a night off the bench, it would sometimes reappear with an on-court outburst or a run-in with either Benjy Taylor or Eran Ganot. The most recent seems to have been the final straw when Fleming had an apparently unsatisfying discussion with Ganot on the bench during the team’s home win over CSUN on Senior Night.

I’m not a body language expert, but Fleming was unhappy and trying to get Ganot’s attention, who was instead focused on the on-court action as the ‘Bows tried to hold off the Matadors. The guard wandered down the tunnel for a bit, reemerged and took a spot at the end of the bench. The coaching staff seemed to not want to give him the attention he desired in that moment.

Fleming played just five minutes that night and has had his spot in the rotation taken over by Sheriff Drammeh and some additional minutes for Sai Tummala, each of whom have earned that bump. He wasn’t happy with his diminishing presence, but to be fair to Ganot, much of Fleming’s recent play hadn’t warranted much run.

The team was playing well with everyone having more clearly defined roles and Fleming has always been a bit more of a wild card. He has come into games and made a few quick turnovers or taken a few questionable shots, though he has also come in and sparked the team on both ends with nifty passes and steals. That ability is there, but Ganot seems to like the more consistent and predictable nature of how his team plays without him.

I can understand each perspective. Fleming feels he has been playing out of position, believing he is a point guard and not a two guard. I haven’t seen much to indicate that’s true, but he really hasn’t had the opportunity to run the team with Roderick Bobbitt at the point the past two seasons. He clearly feels he lost the support and confidence of his coaching staff, so even though Bobbitt is in his final season, Fleming didn’t relish the idea of coming back and competing for the job under Ganot.

But the first-year coach has to do what he feels is best for the team and not just appease one of his more petulant players. He did that and it’s difficult to argue with the results.

Losing Fleming for the final weeks of the year will add a bit more pressure on Bobbitt and Stefan Jankovic, who control much of the offensive flow. Not many of their teammates can create their own shot and Fleming was one who could, so they now have a tougher task.

But a disgruntled teammate is always more of a distraction than an absent one, so this move is probably in the best interests of everyone. Hawaii can thank Fleming for his efforts and look ahead to the upcoming Big West Tournament with complete focus.

This split seemed somewhat inevitable, though the timing was a head scratcher. Hopefully both parties can flourish separately even more so than they did together.

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

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