He's a triple-double waiting to happen
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
Instead of looking at the tattoos, look at the statistics.
Instead of thinking about what he could have done, think about what he has done.
Based on the numbers, Julian Sensley should be considered one of the all-time all-around great players in the history of the University of Hawai'i men's basketball program.
"He has to be up there," Hawai'i head coach Riley Wallace said. "No other player has been able to do all the different things he does."
Sensley is the only player in Hawai'i men's basketball history to rank among the all-time top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists. He is also one of four players in UH history with more than 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career. And he's done it in just three seasons.
"I take a lot of pride in that," the 6-foot-9 senior forward said. "I've always said that I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Not bad for a guy who only a few years ago applied for a job at Footaction in Pearlridge because he didn't think he'd play college basketball.
"There's been a lot of bumps in the road to get here," said Sensley, who grew up in Kailua. "I think that's why I had to come home to play."
The one thing Sensley hasn't done at Hawai'i is play in the NCAA Tournament. That is the goal this week as the Rainbow Warriors prepare to face New Mexico State in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at Reno, Nev., Thursday.
The winner of the WAC Tournament will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"That's what I want more than anything," Sensley said. "I think it would be huge for the team and for me, personally, if we can have a good showing in the WAC Tournament and get to the NCAAs."
The odds are against the No. 4-seeded 'Bows, but Sensley is used to beating the odds.
To appreciate Sensley is to understand the circuitous path he took to get to UH.
It is a tale that has been widely told.
All-state player as a junior at Kalaheo High. Two years at St. Thomas More prep school in Connecticut. One of the top high school recruits in the nation. Committed to play at Cal, but didn't qualify academically. Enrolled at various other schools instead, but never played basketball for one year.
"I went through this mental stage where I didn't think I would ever play basketball again," he said. "That's when I applied for a job at Footaction. That's how bad it was."
His mother, Susanne Karsten, said: "That was a tough lesson for us. We found out that there are some people out there who aren't honest. We were led to believe a lot of things and a lot of things fell through."
Eventually, the hellish road brought him back to paradise.
"I just wanted to play Division I basketball again, and I figured why not do it at home," Sensley said.
His mother said: "He needed to come home. Not for basketball reasons. For emotional reasons. He was really getting lost on the Mainland and I think coming back home to his family got his head straight."
But his three-year journey with the 'Bows also had its share of twists.
Late last season, Sensley got into a shooting slump and was taken out of the starting lineup. At the time, he said he thought about leaving the program.
"I was going to start talking to people about playing (professional basketball) in Europe," he said. "And I was dead serious. I wanted out."
Instead, he spent last summer working on his jump shots and lifting weights. He came back for his senior season stronger, mentally and physically.
"Playing for Coach Wallace wasn't the easiest thing at first," Sensley said. "I used to take his yelling personally and it would get me down. Now, I realize he's only trying to make me a better player. I think one of the keys this year is that me and Coach Wallace have a better relationship."
Wallace said: "People see all his tattoos and think of him as a bad attitude kid. He's the opposite. He's always accepted our coaching and he's never caused one problem here."
Another key has been Sensley's relationship with associate coach Bob Nash. In the middle of this season, when Sensley was in another shooting slump, he sought the advice of Nash, one of UH's all-time great players and a former NBA player.
Since then, Sensley has been working with Nash before and after every practice. Some days they work on post moves. Other days they work on jump shots. Other days they work on dribbling.
"I think he became more conscious of what he needed to do to improve his game," Nash said. "Had he been doing this two years ago, we'd be wondering where he'd be drafted (in the NBA), not if."
Sure enough, Sensley has become Hawai'i's most reliable player in the second half of the season. He leads the team with 17.7 points per game and is second in rebounding with 5.9 per game.
On Sunday, he was named to the All-WAC first team.
"I think he's a solid player — he shoots the ball well for his size and goes to the hole hard," said New Mexico State head coach Reggie Theus, who is a former NBA all-star. "I'd like to see him put the ball on the floor a little better, but other than that, I think he's got a chance to make some money in this game."
Despite the numbers and accolades, Sensley is often the target of criticism on radio talk shows and Internet message boards.
His mother said she often has to turn off the radio after games when Sensley does not register big numbers. Once after a game this season, Sensley's younger brother, Max Karsten, called in a radio show to quiet the critics.
"You have to understand, Julian is like Max's hero," Susanne Karsten said. "So we were driving in the car and he said enough already, I'm going to call. I told him no because we're going to embarrass Julian, but he did it anyway."
Sensley said that is the very reason why he is glad he returned home to play basketball.
"There's always going to be negative people out there, but none of them will come to my face and say it to me," he said. "It's good to know my family is always going to be there to back me up. Sometimes I think it's harder for them to have to listen to that stuff."
As Wallace put it: "Everybody wants him to be Magic Johnson, but he's not. He's been pretty good as Julian Sensley."
Some of the critics say Sensley doesn't "play big." Others say he plays like he doesn't care.
They apparently weren't there in Fresno, Calif., last month when he couldn't stop the tears from streaming down his face after a loss to Fresno State.
"I'm not the kind of player who's going to come out yelling and screaming," he said. "But that doesn't mean I'm not trying or I don't want to win. I'm kind of quiet on the court, but I give everything I have every second I'm out there."
The biggest question after this season is whether he'll make a professional team.
Sensley's name is not showing up on NBA mock drafts (the NBA Draft in June is only two rounds). However, Nash and Wallace said they think Sensley will be invited to work out for several NBA teams before the draft.
His mother said: "He may not be the lottery pick that we all dreamed about, but I still believe he'll make it in pro ball somewhere."
Wallace said Sensley's all-around skills will be most appreciated next season — when he's no longer in the starting lineup.
"He's such an advantage for us because he can do so many things at his size," Wallace said. "He's the guy other teams always had to worry about because he's such a tough match-up. I think when he's gone, that's when people are going to say, hey, that Sensley was pretty good."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at email@example.com.