Verwers a quick study for 'Bows
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
Nine days from today, Stephen Verwers will have one of his biggest days in the Stan Sheriff Center.
Verwers is a senior center for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team, but the Rainbow Warriors do not have a game scheduled for Dec. 16.
Instead, Verwers will be taking part in the graduation ceremonies at the Sheriff Center that day.
"I came here to play basketball, but I also came here for the education," he said. "Education is big in my family, so I'm happy I got it done."
Verwers is also getting it done on the basketball court.
Through the first six games of the season, he is averaging 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and leads the team with a .607 field goal percentage. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound center had one of his best games in a Hawai'i uniform on Sunday when he scored 15 points and grabbed four rebounds in an 81-67 loss at San Diego.
"I'm playing with more confidence this year," he said. "I feel like I've been playing well at times, but the wins haven't been coming, so there's mixed feelings. I definitely want to help us win more games."
Hawai'i is 2-4 this season, and will host 2-5 Long Beach State on Sunday at the Sheriff Center.
"It's a little tough trying to concentrate on school and basketball, especially being so close to graduation," Verwers said. "But I want to have a big year on the court, so I'm doing what I can."
Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said Verwers has made significant strides since last season, when he averaged 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a part-time starter.
"He's an option in the offense for us now," Nash said. "Last year, he wasn't as involved. He's coming around, especially on the offensive end. Defensively, we still have to get him a little better.
"Stephen has some limitations. But what I like about him is he works awfully hard at trying to improve."
In particular, Verwers and teammate Jared Dillinger spent several hours in the gym prior to the start of this season. Not coincidentally, they are two of the most improved players from last season.
"He'd set up under the basket, I would go outside," Dillinger said. "He'd pass to me so I could work on my jump shots, then I'd pass to him so he could work on his hook shots. It paid off. He's definitely a presence inside for us now. I think he's accepting his role as our main big man."
Verwers is quick to credit first-year assistant coach Larry Farmer for some of the improvement. They often stay after practice to work on post moves.
"He has a great feel for the game," Farmer said of Verwers. "What we're working on most is his footwork in the post, both on offense and defense."
Farmer said Verwers has also improved on the court because of extra work off the court.
"He came up the other day (to the basketball office) and watched 45 minutes of film," Farmer said. "That wasn't mandatory. But that's the kind of thing that will make him better."
But Verwers has always been a quick study. He got that as a home-schooled student in Weatherford, Texas.
"My parents were my teachers, my mom especially," he said. "I think that really prepared me for college because you had to do a lot of studying on your own."
Verwers was an academic all-conference selection last season, and will join teammate Bobby Nash as players with "graduate student" status for the rest of this season.
Verwers will receive his undergraduate degree in travel industry management, so he is always studying on the road, even if not his books.
If a showerhead is too low — and it often is for a 6-11 person — or a bed is uncomfortable, Verwers will make a mental note.
"In travel industry management, you're always thinking about serving people better," he said. "When we go on the road, it's hard because the flight is so long. But I look forward to it because it's something I want to get into later."
Verwers transferred to Hawai'i from Colorado State in 2005, in part because he wanted to study travel industry management.
"It's been the best decision," said his father, Craig. "If that's what you're going to major in, what better place than Hawai'i?"
Stephen's family will make their first trip to Honolulu next week for the graduation ceremonies, and will stay through Christmas.
"It'll be fun," Stephen said. "And I hope we can win our games, too. That'll make it even better."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.