Rainbow basketball team opens against Little Rock
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
The only thing the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team wants to carry over from last season is a winning tradition.
"It's a different team, completely," said senior captain Mark Campbell. "We can't look back at last year and think it's all going to just carry over. We have to create our own identity."
Step one begins tonight when the Rainbow Warriors play host to Arkansas-Little Rock in the feature game of the Hawaiian Airlines Tip-Off Tournament at the Stan Sheriff Center. It is the season opener for both teams.
"It's huge," Campbell said. "Not just because it's the first game of the season, but because we can't afford to lose any of these games early in the season."
Preseason hopes and hype have been high for UH. Four starters return from last season's record-setting 27-6 team, and the 'Bows are predicted to finish either first or second in the Western Athletic Conference by most preseason publications.
"The fact that we have four starters back is a plus," said junior Phil Martin, the returning starter at power forward. "But it takes more than four to make it work."
The returning starters are Campbell, Martin, Carl English and Haim Shimonovich. The fifth starting spot will be filled by highly-touted recruit Vaidotas Peciukas.
Tony Akpan, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, and Milos Zivanovic, a 6-11 freshman, are expected to be the first frontcourt reserves. Akpan played a limited reserve role last season; Zivanovic redshirted last season.
Newcomers Jason Carter and Michael Kuebler will provide relief at the guard positions.
"There's definitely some nerves," Martin said. "We're blending with the new guys still, but we're ready to be tested."
A pop quiz last Sunday proved to be more difficult than expected a 73-72 exhibition loss to the EA Sports West All-Stars.
UH head coach Riley Wallace said he expects a better effort tonight, mainly because the 'Bows did their homework this time.
"We'll look better because we'll have a better idea of what we're going against," Wallace said. "We didn't have a scouting report or anything on EA Sports, so we just went out and played. This week, we've watched a lot of film on (UALR) so we know what to expect. With our team, that makes a lot of difference because we have a better idea of what to attack."
Still, the Trojans are expected to provide a difficult opening test. They went 18-11 the last two seasons, and return all five starters from last season.
"They use three guards and all three are quick," Campbell said. "And it looks like they all have the green light to shoot the 3. So I think the key will be our defense."
Wallace was critical of his team's defensive effort in the exhibition loss, and then put them through several physically-grueling drills in the next few days of practice.
"I think they all understand what happens when they don't play hard," Wallace said.
As Martin put it: "We're ready to lay the smack down."
With a pre-WAC schedule filled with opponents from "mid-major" conferences, the 'Bows may have to display their power early in order to get all-important RPI power points later.
"We have to open up strong, no question," Wallace said.
Campbell added: "It's not make or break time, but we're shooting to go undefeated before the WAC."