Wallace sendoff done right
This was a Senior Moment none of them are likely to forget.
Not the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team that slapped an emotional exclamation point on the regular season with a rousing 92-75 victory over Boise State for its eighth win in 11 games. And not the 6,958 faithful that turned out and turned up the volume at the Stan Sheriff Center until well after the final buzzer.
On a night when the 3-pointers came off the fingertips of Matt Lojeski almost as often and naturally as the tears would later cascade down the crimson cheeks of his coach, Riley Wallace, they threw a party the likes of which the facility and the program had never seen. And likely won't approach again until Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji, who was in attendance, gets around to retiring some distant day.
They sang "Hawai'i Aloha" together, swaying to the Danny Kaleikini's voice, and concluding with a heartfelt chorus of "We want (Bob) Nash!" as athletic director Herman Frazier, whose call it will be, looked on.
They left the hardwood dotted with flower petals and tear drops hours after game's end, the party still raging. The lei still coming.
If not for the 'Bows' 6 a.m. bus to the airport today, many of them might still be there reveling in the moment, celebrating the past and, with an 18-12 record, encouraging the team to take aim at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title, a mission that begins Thursday with Utah State in Las Cruces, N.M.
UH, a school that hasn't always said goodbye to its coaches — basketball ones especially — with grace did it up right this time. They did it with a pride and pageantry that had even the Boise State folks applauding.
Not that the assembled fans, many of them booing Frazier's introduction, or those holding signs saying, "Thanks 4 the memories" would have had it any other way. Unlike the parting with Red Rocha of Fabulous Five fame, who was terminated at the postseason awards banquet, this was a worthy send-off. This was payment due for services rendered by a man who has provided its only WAC titles, giving the program nearly a quarter-century, the last 20 years (334-264) as its head coach.
There were chants of "Wall-ace, Wall-ace ..." before — and well after — the final horn in honor of the coach who tied former Wahine taskmaster Vince Goo for the most basketball victories in school history. Wallace and Goo joined hands at center court and raised each other's high in exultation, one of a multitude of Kodak moments.
Somewhere under a pile of lei that almost hid the tears in his eyes but could do nothing to disguise the emotion occasionally choking his voice, Wallace thanked them for coming. Thanked them from the scrapbook of his memory and the depths of a seemingly bottomless heart. For last night and for the decades. Even finding words of appreciation and respect for Frazier, who had handed him the final, fateful "no renewal" contract.
"If I cry tonight it is because I love you all," Wallace told the faithful over the public address system as his wife, Joan, sat nearby and his son, Rob, a Marine Corps pilot just back from Iraq, sat at courtside.
Somewhere you had to think that the late Stan Sheriff, who hired Wallace to revive the program and liked a good party, was smiling, too. His wife, Jane, and sons were.
There would be on-going choruses of "Ghee ... Ghee" in tribute to senior center Ahmet Gueye, who had 17 points and nine rebounds. The well-wishers and autograph-seekers surrounded Lojeski, bringing the senior guard to a standstill for the first time on an otherwise seemingly unstoppable night when he had a career-high 35 points on 11-of-14 (7-of-7 from 3-point range) shooting.
"I'm glad to see him (Lojeski) go," Broncos' coach Greg Graham said afterward. It might have been the only tearless parting of the night.
"We wanted this one; this was something special," Gueye put it afterward. "We weren't about to let this one get away. Not for coach."
Not for themselves, either.
And they played like it to a man, a team possessed of purpose and energy. A team feeling it in 8-of-17 3-point shooting and in a 42-23 mastery on the boards to overcome what, at earlier points in this season, would have otherwise been a debilitating 23 turnovers. In the first 4 minutes and 8 seconds, which contained three turnovers, they wanted it too much too soon. When they settled down they were a buzzsaw, Graham agreed afterward, the continuing ovations all but drowning out his words deep in the locker room tunnel.
Later, Wallace told the crowd: "Stand up and give yourself a hand and an a-l-o-h-a."
And they did. For this was a night to long be remembered.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.