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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Seniors worked hard to make connection

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Julian Sensley, Matt Gipson, Deonte Tatum and Chris Botez will play their final two home games, starting with New Mexico State on Thursday.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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WAC MENíS BASKETBALL

Who: Hawai'i (16-9, 9-5 WAC) vs. New Mexico State (15-12, 10-5)

When: Thursday, 7:05 p.m.

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

Tickets: $22 for lower level seats, $18 for upper level adult seats, $5 for upper level student seats (ages 4 through high school), $3 for upper level UH student seats, $5 for Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs seats. Parking is $3.

TV/Radio: Live on KFVE (Ch. 5)/KKEA (1420 AM).

Saturday: Hawai'i vs. Louisiana Tech (18-11, 10-5) at 5:05 p.m. on Senior Night.

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Good size. Good talent. Good attitude. Good guys.

If only more senior classes could be like the current one for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.

"This group has probably improved through practice more than any group I've had," Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace said. "That's because they have the skills to do it, but they also accepted their roles and really stayed together as a team."

This is senior week for Chris Botez, Matthew Gipson, Julian Sensley and Deonte Tatum.

They will play their final regular-season home games this week when the Rainbow Warriors host New Mexico State on Thursday and Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

The seniors will be honored after Saturday's game.

"I was just sitting in my room last night thinking about how this is it for us," Botez said. "We're happy about it, but it kind of sucks too because you don't want it to end."

Depending on how the 'Bows do over the next two weeks, it may not end for a while.

After sweeping a two-game road trip last week, the 'Bows are 16-9 overall and 9-5 in the Western Athletic Conference.

Hawai'i has a realistic shot at second place in the WAC if it wins both games this week. It would also give it momentum into next week's WAC Tournament at Reno, Nev.

"This is our last go-around, so we have to give it all we got," Gipson said. "There's a lot of emotions involved this week, but we have to remember to take care of our business first."

Fittingly, much will depend on the four seniors. Gipson, Sensley and Tatum are starters; Botez is the sixth man.

They come from different parts of the country, but have somehow found a way to blend on and off the court.

Botez is a 7-foot center from Oregon. Gipson is a 6-9 forward from Texas. Sensley is a 6-9 forward from Kailua. Tatum is a 6-3 point guard from Wisconsin.

"They give us size at every position, and that's our advantage," Wallace said. "But it's not just that. They all run the floor well and can play above the rim."

It is all about rising with this class. Each senior has stepped up to fill a key role this season.

  • Sensley went from all-around mediocrity last season to all-around star this season. He leads the team with 17.5 points per game, and is also contributing 5.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.

    "He's worked as hard on his game as anybody," Wallace said. "And you have to say he's an All-WAC player now."

  • Gipson was ready to quit the team last season, but has started every game this season. He is second on the team in rebounding with 5.8 per game, and is scoring 7.1 points per game.

    "It's kind of crazy because these two seasons have been a blur," he said. "But it's far from over."

  • Botez was the starting center as a junior, but he may be better as the sixth man this season.

    "What he's done, accepting his role that way, has been a big part of this team," Wallace said.

  • Tatum is clearly the most improved player on the team from last season. He lost his starting role at the end of last season, but has emerged as the reliable leader this season.

    "When you talk about good attitude and working hard, start with him," Wallace said.

    The seniors' attitude has apparently spread through the team. Sensley describes the 'Bows as the closest team he's ever played on.

    "Usually, you have cliques on teams, but everybody here is tight," he said. "Any single one of these guys can call me years from now and I'll remember them."

    They are also hoping to give the fans a memorable show this week. Last week, Hawai'i was the opponent for "Senior Night" at both Idaho and San Jose State.

    "There's nobody in the country who can match what we do for our seniors," Wallace said. "We've created something special with the fans for that, and this is a special group that deserves another good send off."

    • • •

    CHRIS BOTEZ

    Height, weight, hometown: 7-0, 220, Portland, Ore.

    Senior title: Class Clown

    Off the court: Teammates say Botez is the funniest player to hang out with because of his antics. "Everything he does is funny," said Deonte Tatum. "If you're feeling down, he's the guy to go see because he'll make you laugh."

    On the court: He was the starting center last season, but has become the sparkplug as the sixth man this season. He is averaging 3.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, and is second on the team with 31 blocked shots. His 72 blocks over two seasons ranks No. 9 on UH's career list.

    Why I chose the University of Hawai'i: "The feeling of family here. The support I get from everybody is just great."

    What I'll remember most about being a Rainbow Warrior: "The coaches. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be who I am today. From the day I got here, they gave me so much advice and support."

    MATTHEW GIPSON

    Height, weight, hometown: 6-9, 225, Burkburnett, Texas

    Senior title: Most Unique

    Off the court: Teammates like to make fun of his colorful wardrobe and messy hair, but Gipson says "it's a matter of taste." Roommate Chris Botez said Gipson doesn't talk much because "he's either listening to his iPod or reading a book."

    On the court: He has started all 25 games at power forward this season, and is averaging 7.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Opposing coaches say Gipson is difficult to defend because he has quick moves in the low-post.

    Why I chose the University of Hawai'i: "As soon as I got here, I felt like I was supposed to be here. I felt like this was the place I needed to be."

    What I'll remember most about being a Rainbow Warrior: "The relationships with my teammates and the coaches and the fans. That's going to stay with me forever."

    JULIAN SENSLEY

    Height, weight, hometown: 6-9, 235, Kailua, O'ahu

    Senior title: Most Popular

    Off the court: Wanna hang out at the happening places in town? Follow Sensley. Over the past three seasons, he has served as a host for several recruits, including some of his current senior classmates. In essence, he is the go-to guy on and off the court.
    On the court: Leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game. He is the only player in UH history to rank among the top 10 in scoring (9th with 1,176), rebounding (7th with 577) and assists (9th with 279). "Whether it's in the NBA or overseas, he's going to make it as a pro somewhere," teammate Chris Botez said.

    Why I chose the University of Hawai'i: "I wanted to come home and be close to my family."

    What I'll remember most about being a Rainbow Warrior: "The camaraderie with my teammates. Of all the teams I've played on, this is the closest one I've ever seen."

    DEONTE TATUM

    Height, weight, hometown: 6-3, 170, Milwaukee.

    Senior title: Class President

    Off the court: Teammates tease Tatum because of his big grin, but they have also learned to respect him as the leader of this year's team. "Off the court, he can be a clown, too," teammate Chris Botez said. "But on the court, he's our leader."
    On the court: After losing his starting point guard job last season, Tatum is the most improved player on this year's team. He is averaging 8.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and a team-high 3.9 assists per game.

    Why I chose the University of Hawai'i: "For the situation we're in right now. I wanted to give myself a chance to be on a team that could get to the (NCAA) Tournament and be one of the players who could make a difference in that."

    What I'll remember most about being a Rainbow Warrior: "My teammates more than anything. We went through a lot of ups and downs this season. I learned a lot from them and they learned a lot from me."

    Reach Dayton Morinaga at dmorinaga@honoluluadvertiser.com.