'Bows' recruiting blitz pays off
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Whether or not Gib Arnold's first recruiting class with the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team turns into an elite eight remains to be seen.
That he was able to put it together in less than two months is impressive enough for now.
"Not one of these guys has a (NCAA) Division I point or rebound, so let's wait and see what they can do before we get too excited," Arnold said. "But for the amount of time we had to put this together, I do feel good about it."
Arnold was named the new Hawai'i men's basketball coach on March 20. The spring signing period for recruits ran from April 14 to May 19.
By the end of that signing period, Arnold had secured seven new recruits and solidified another one that had signed during the early period.
In short, the current Hawai'i roster features 12 scholarship players, and eight of them are new.
"I hope to never do something like this again, to tell you the truth," Arnold said. "It was a scramble and, ideally, you'd like to have a more manageable number."
In any case, Arnold's inaugural recruiting class is receiving national attention. The recruiting website www.hoopscooponline.com rates Hawai'i as the No. 7 class in the country, behind Kentucky, Memphis, Ohio State, Missouri, Marquette and Wake Forest.
"That's not saying that Hawai'i got better players than some of the other top-echelon programs, because having eight (recruits) had a lot to do with it in the (rating) system I use," said Hoopscoop editor Clark Francis. "But this is a very impressive group for Hawai'i. (Arnold) got some kids who could compete in the Pac-10. UCLA would love to take some of those backcourt kids."
Point guard Anthony Salter — who signed with Hawai'i last week — is one of the top recruits in the Western Athletic Conference, according to Hoopscoop.
Francis said he thinks another point guard recruit, Bobby Miles, "could be an all-league player by his sophomore year."
Forward Josten Thomas is "the most physically ready to play Division I right now," according to Arnold, and forward Dominick Brumfield is not far behind.
The word potential has showed up frequently in the descriptions of the others: Bo Barnes, Jordan Coleman, Vander Joaquim and Trevor Wiseman.
Perhaps the biggest question: How did Arnold do it?
Prior to becoming Hawai'i's head coach, Arnold was an assistant coach at USC for five seasons. His primary duty for the Trojans was recruiting.
"Absolutely, the contacts I made at USC were a huge help," Arnold said.
Six of the eight new Hawai'i recruits initially met Arnold while he was still an assistant at USC.
"At USC, your proximity to talent is right there, whether it be at the high schools in the area, or tournaments in California," Arnold said. "I was recruiting some of these guys to USC, and even the ones who I wasn't recruiting, I at least knew about them, and that was big given our situation."
Arnold said it also helped that he had been through a similar recruiting scramble in past years.
When he was the head coach at College of Southern Idaho, Arnold said he once signed 10 players before a season. During his first season as an assistant coach at USC, the Trojans had nine open scholarships to fill.
"I think we signed seven that first year (at USC), all in the late period, so it was very similar to what we did here," Arnold said.
It is worth noting that Arnold was released as an assistant coach by USC head coach Kevin O'Neill on March 7. Two weeks later, Arnold was named the Hawai'i head coach.
In the two-week limbo, Arnold said a few top-tier recruits he was in contact with moved on, including one who eventually signed with Kentucky.
'RECRUITING HEAD COACH'
Arnold has described himself as "a recruiting head coach," and he has proved it over the past two months.
He even delayed the selection of his assistant coaches so he could focus on the recruiting trail himself.
During his first two months, Arnold spent more time in California than Honolulu. He also made trips to Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Iowa to visit recruits.
Hoopscoop's Francis said: "I respect people who work hard, and Gib works hard. That's why he's good at what he does."
Francis recalled an example a few years ago when he saw Arnold in the crowd at a high school tournament in Florida.
"I saw him in the morning, and he said he had been traveling for 18 hours because he went from L.A. to (the 'Iolani Classic) in Hawai'i, and then out (to Florida)," Francis said. "Well, the games (in Florida) end around midnight, and I see Gib is still there talking to people. He's put his time into recruiting, I know that."
Arnold is quick to point out that he did not recruit all eight players to Hawai'i by himself.
For starters, guard Jordan Coleman signed during the early period in November, when Bob Nash was still head coach. Once Arnold was named head coach, one of his priorities was a visit to Coleman to honor the scholarship.
Eran Ganot, an assistant under Nash, was primarily responsible for recruiting Coleman. Ganot's current contract expires at the end of June, so he has continued to work under Arnold.
Ganot also helped recruit shooting guard Bo Barnes.
Ganot and video coordinator Johnny White were also key guides for the recruits who made official visits to Honolulu in recent weeks.
New Hawai'i associate coach Walter Roese was also crucial in the signing of post player Vander Joaquim.
One of the new recruits — Josten Thomas —even helped recruit ... sort of.
Thomas signed with Hawai'i last month, before he made an official visit. He made his visit to Honolulu last weekend, at the same time that unsigned point guard Anthony Salter was on his visit.
Salter eventually signed with Hawai'i, and said Thomas helped convince him to play for the 'Bows.
"We only spent a day together, but we hit it off," Salter said. "I knew if I chose Hawai'i, he'd be here and we could help build this thing together."
Thomas said: "We both didn't know anything about Hawai'i, so we just talked about how fun it would be to get the whole basketball thing going big here, and doing it from an island."
WHAT ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
Even with a full staff in place, Arnold said he expects to continue to find his own recruits next year.
"I may have to cut back on some of my trips so my assistants can get out, but I'm still going to be fully involved," he said.
Arnold said he is already looking at recruits for 2011 and 2012, and will spend much of July attending prep tournaments and camps.
At the same time, he expects his associate and assistant coaches to be "relentless" recruiters.
"I want them to go after as many quality guys they can find, and then it'll be my job as head coach to sort it out," Arnold said.
Roese will spend several weeks this summer coaching Brazil's under-18 national team, and has contacts in several other countries.
"He's known to a lot of those (international) kids as the American coach," Arnold said. "So you would think that's going to work in our favor."
Benjy Taylor, who was named an assistant coach last week, is known for his ties to the midwestern United States. Another assistant coach position has yet to be filled.
Arnold, however, said he has quickly become aware of some of the obstacles that come with recruiting basketball players to Hawai'i.
"The financial commitment is obviously something that's tough," he said. "It costs a lot more to fly over that ocean to see a kid than it is to drive 20 minutes."
With that in mind, Arnold said he is also focusing on recruiting financial boosters to his program.
"Support from booster clubs can definitely help," he said. "Hawai'i is definitely a unique situation, so we have to find unique ways to get it done."