Williams returns as 'stronger' person'
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
With its top shooter back in place, the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team will try to shoot its way out of the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference.
Dwain Williams returned to practice with the Rainbow Warriors yesterday for the first time since Jan. 15. He was away from the team for more than two weeks following the death and funeral of his cousin in California.
"I'm in a good space right now," Williams said. "It was one of the hardest times of my life. It's one of those things you have to go through to learn and grow and bounce back. I'm good now."
Williams, a 6-foot junior guard, has missed the last five games. The 'Bows went 1-4 in those games.
Hawai'i is 9-13 overall and tied for eighth place in the nine-team WAC at 2-7.
The 'Bows will host Fresno State on Saturday in a WAC game at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said Williams' status for Saturday's game is still in question because he has missed so many practices and games.
"He still has a long way to go," Nash said. "When you miss that much time in the middle of a season, it's hard to come in right away. He's going to have to work on his conditioning, get familiar with the offense and the defense again, working with his teammates."
Williams said it took him a long time to mourn the death of his cousin because it was unexpected. He did not want to go into details about the death of Jobron Coopland, 23, saying only "it was tragic."
"We grew up in the same house when we were kids," Williams said. "He was like a brother."
Williams is second on the team in scoring with 14.0 points per game. Despite playing in only 14 of the team's 22 games so far this season, Williams leads the 'Bows with 31 3-pointers.
"I was a little winded, but other than that, it was good," Williams said after yesterday's practice. "My shot felt good. I still have to work on it, I know that. I think I'll be better with more practice."
The 'Bows could have used Williams in recent games, especially the last three losses.
In the last five games without Williams, Hawai'i went 18 of 73 from 3-point range for a .247 percentage. In the last three losses, the 'Bows are 4 of 30 from 3-point range (.133 percentage).
What's more, starting guards Hiram Thompson and Jeremy Lay had to play marathon minutes without Williams available.
Still, Williams said he realizes he has to work his way back into the rotation.
"I know I'm the last man in right now," he said. "But I don't want anything I don't have to work for."
Ironically, Lay and Thompson were not able to practice yesterday with Williams.
Lay was sick, and Thompson is recovering from a shoulder injury. Both are expected to be ready by Saturday.
Thompson injured his left shoulder in the second half of Saturday's 66-60 loss at Nevada.
"His shoulder is still a little sore," Nash said. "We'll see how he feels as the week goes."
The 'Bows will need to be at full strength with the regular season winding down. There are only seven WAC games remaining, including three home games.
Hawai'i and Boise State are currently tied at the bottom of the WAC at 2-7.
Barring an upset tonight, Idaho will drop into a tie with Hawai'i and Boise State at 2-7 as well. Idaho is playing at Utah State today.
Utah State, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State are currently tied atop the WAC standings at 6-2.
Fresno State is in sixth place at 4-5.
Whether he plays or not, Williams said he will be dedicating the rest of this season to his cousin.
"I came out a stronger person through this," he said. "So I'll definitely be thinking about him every time I'm out there."