Valdes joins Janks as UH quickly becoming unrecognizable

I wonder if anyone has been sending Eran Ganot DJ Khaled memes over the past few days, because my first thought when I saw the name Aaron Valdes in a headline was “Another one?”

Valdes, who still had a year of eligibility remaining at UH, has decided to turn pro rather than return for his senior season with the Rainbow Warriors. This one is much more of a shocker than Stefan Jankovic, who will likely have multiple pro options in Europe and might eventually work his way towards the NBA’s D-League.

But Valdes has never been close to the NBA’s radar. He’s an exceptional athlete with unique skills around the rim, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game. He’s only been playing for a few years and hasn’t yet harnessed his abilities. I’ll be very curious to see if and where he winds up at the pro level because I’m surprised those giving him advice have led him to this decision.

Now only Mike Thomas remains of this year’s starting five and, frankly, I would have considered Thomas a more likely candidate to leave than Valdes. I don’t think Thomas is ready either, but he picked up some good national buzz during the tournament and has a defined role at the pro level.

So this season’s 28-win squad has now lost 60 of its 77 points scored per game. Valdes, who vacillated between the backcourt and frontcourt, was supposed to help bridge the gap next year as the younger players begin to take the reins.

Coach Ganot has been racking up the Coach of the Year honors in the wake of arguably Hawaii’s best season ever. But he’s going to have an almost entirely new rotation to mold in 2016-17, when the team will already be playing under the weight of NCAA sanctions and a postseason ban.

It will certainly be a transition season when we’ll see if Sheriff Drammeh, Niko Filipovich and perhaps Jack Purchase have what it takes to lead the ‘Bows beyond next year. Ganot and Hawaii defied the odds already, so they shouldn’t be discounted. But there will be hardly any carryover to fall back on.

MARGIE’S UNKIND TO THE FAVORITES EARLY: The season’s third World Championship Tour event, the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, continues to spotlight the mishmash that is the men’s world tour. So far, it’s been Matt Wilkinson and everyone else. That has continued to be the case as Wilko has moved into round four, while Kelly Slater lost in round two for the second time this year. Slater hadn’t been ousted in round two since 2013 and now he’s won only one heat in three contests.

Defending world champ Adriano de Souza lost in round three to Leonardo Fioravanti, as did Taj Burrow, who just announced he’ll be retiring after this year’s Fiji Pro.

It’s obviously too early to declare the title Wilkinson’s to lose, but unless someone starts dishing him an early loss now and then, his current lead will start to seem daunting. History says Wilko won’t be keeping up his podium run, but sometimes athletes make the leap and ride that momentum all year, a la Gabriel Medina in 2014.

But with Mick Fanning taking time off, Burrow’s career coming to an end and Slater a non-factor thus far, we seem to be diving head first into the tour’s new era.

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

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