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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 30, 2006

He won't be living a life of Riley

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Riley Wallace's contract mandates the upcoming season will be his 20th and last as head coach of the University of Hawai'i men's basketball program.

But, for all its well-crafted finality and iron-clad clauses, what the 17-page document has left up in the air is what kind of a team the Rainbow Warriors will put on the floor for that final season and beyond. What the lawyers couldn't assure was how Wallace would embark upon recruiting for his final roundup and how prospective recruits would receive him.

Left to be pondered has been the much-speculated question about whether it would be a cupboard left well-stocked or bare? A grand send-off or departing whimper?

Two weeks before the April 12 letter-of-intent signing period begins we might have a glimpse of the answers to those and other questions.

The verbal commitments by San Diego-area high school guard Todd Lowenthal and 7-foot junior college transfer Todd Follmer, as beginnings go, suggest the Wallace era intends to go out with a bang rather than a sigh. And has a chance to.

While it is still early and the 'Bows have three remaining scholarships to fill (assuming the oral commitments hold true), you'd have to say the early indications are at least promising. Perhaps even surprising under the circumstances.

While he is prohibited by NCAA rules from directly discussing prospective recruits, Wallace does not hold back on the overall game plan. "If we get who we want, it would be one of our best if not the best groups," he says.

The contract of Wallace, who turns 65 in October, mandates, "specifically the term of this agreement will not be extended or renewed" and "the university will not negotiate a new contract with coach."

Under such circumstances, Wallace wouldn't be the first coach at UH or elsewhere to leave in a huff. Or, to be less than concerned about what he's leaving behind.

But, then, to know Wallace is to understand that he is above all a fierce competitor whether it is coaching, golf or telling tall tales who expects to earn the $275,000 the final year of his contract provides. To have witnessed Wallace's body of work at UH is to know he'd sooner give up his golf privileges and courtesy car than leave on a sour note after having invested so much.

"I think what people might forget is that Riley built this program (back up) and he's not about to just let it go down," said chief recruiter Jackson Wheeler.

Wallace said: "My thought was if I stayed this year, I wanted to win." Indeed, he has vowed to "coach harder than I ever have, 'cause if we win, it means the program will continue to keep growing. And, that's what we came here to do."

All the way to the end.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.