'Bows hope for better fortunes next season
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
There is no time for March sadness for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team.
With the realization that there will be no postseason games this season, the Rainbow Warriors are already looking ahead to next season.
"If every guy who comes back works hard and improves, and if we bring in recruits who can help us right away like we did this year, we'll be fine," Hawai'i coach Riley Wallace said.
The 'Bows will lose one of the best all-around players in school history in Julian Sensley. Team leader Deonte Tatum and big men Chris Botez and Matthew Gipson were also part of the departing senior class.
"It's going to be hard to replace those guys," Wallace said. "But we still have a good group coming back."
The 'Bows are also hoping to get rid of an injury jinx that hit them this season.
Shooting guards Bobby Nash (shoulder) and Matt Gibson (staph infection) missed most of the season with injuries.
Starting center Ahmet Gueye missed the home finale and the Western Athletic Conference Tournament because of torn ligaments in his right knee.
"If we have Ahmet down the stretch, I think we're still playing somewhere (in the NCAA Tournament or NIT)," Wallace said. "And if we had Bobby and Little Matt, I don't think there's any question."
The good news is all three will return next season.
Nash and Gibson are all but recovered, and should compete for starting roles next season.
The 6-foot-6 Nash, who will be a junior, could play both the shooting guard and small forward positions.
"We had some shortcomings this year, so it was hard for me to sit on the side and just watch when I really wanted to be in there helping the team," Nash said. "But next year has already started for me. I'm working hard every day to turn the shortcomings of this year into a positive for next year."
The 6-5 Gibson, who will be a junior, can play both guard positions. He led the 'Bows in scoring as a sophomore with 13.0 points per game.
"We're going to miss the seniors and we all wish it could have ended better for them," Nash said. "But they paved the way for us. They set the tone, and I expect it to be better next year."
Gueye is scheduled to have surgery on his knee later this month. The recovery and rehabilitation will take five to six months, so he should be ready to join the team when practices start in October.
"I think it hurt more than my injury to have to watch the team lose without me," Gueye said. "I felt so bad for the team, especially the seniors. But the only thing I can do about it now is work hard and come back even stronger for next year."
Gueye and 6-6 shooting guard Matt Lojeski will be the only returning starters. Both will be seniors next season.
Gueye averaged 12.2 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game, and was among the WAC leaders with 65 blocked shots.
Lojeski averaged 13.6 points per game and led the team with 56 3-pointers.
With the return of Gibson and Nash — and the loss of Sensley — Lojeski may move to the small forward spot.
"It depends on who else we bring (from recruiting)," Wallace said. "But what made this year's team so special is that we had guys willing to play different positions."
Guards John Wilder and Dominic Waters will also return to the roster next season. Wilder is one of the team's best defenders, and he can play both guard positions.
Waters, the WAC Freshman of the Year, led the team with a 43.5 percentage from 3-point range, and will be given a shot to compete for the starting point guard role.
Fellow freshman point guard Hiram Thompson is expected to begin a two-year mission for the Mormon church this summer.
Walk-ons Jared Dillinger and Jack Miller are also expected to return.
Stephen Verwers, a 6-10 center, will become eligible next season. He had to sit out this past season because he transferred to Hawai'i from Colorado State.
"With Ahmet and Stephen in there, that's two big bodies," Wallace said. "But we don't want to run into the problem we had this year, so we still need depth."
The 'Bows have already signed 6-8 forward Alex Veit to a scholarship for next season.
Hawai'i has four more scholarships to fill for next season, and could get one more once Thompson's mission becomes official.
If the 'Bows do get five scholarships for next season, Wallace said he would like to fill every position — one point guard, one shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward and a center.
"You want to have competition at every spot," Wallace said. "Hopefully the guys you bring in are good enough to push the guys we have coming back."
Next season will also be Wallace's final one as head coach of the 'Bows.
"Am I going to change all of a sudden? No way," he said. "I'm going to coach harder than I ever did because it is my last year. If we win, it helps the program to continue in that direction."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.