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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sellitto's got that eye of the tiger again

By Ferd Lewis

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Tony Sellitto

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With the games winding down on what has been announced as his last season as the head basketball coach at Hawai'i Pacific University, Tony Sellitto was asked if the 1993 NAIA national championship team was his best memory.

"Well, if we don't win it (the national title) again this year," Sellitto shot back.

Yes, even when Sellitto is retiring, he is hardly the dictionary definition of the retiring type.

A family situation will force him off the sidelines at age 71 after his second go-round with the Sea Warriors, but, characteristically, he will not be going quietly. As someone who became known as "Tony the Tiger" early on in a 38-year basketball coaching career here, quiet is not in his nature. Playing out the string is not in his DNA.

Especially not, apparently, with a team that is 13-3, leading the Pacific West Conference with a 5-0 record, and hitting its stride.

The Sea Warriors will take a 10-game winning streak into Saturday's showdown with defending conference champion Brigham Young-Hawai'i, and with this pledged to be his final season, there is no doubting Sellitto's resolve to make it the best yet.

That's a considerable aim considering he has gone 317-206 at HPU over two stints (1988-02) and (2008-present). But Sellitto maintains this is the best team he's had since the national championship squad "by far."

C.J. Jackson, a transfer from Illinois, is averaging 16.2 points and 12.1 rebounds a game. "I don't remember coaching a player like that," Sellitto said.

Yet it is far from a one-man band with Mike Helton (20.4 points per game) leading the conference in scoring, and Ray Murdock and Norman Wells averaging 12.9 and 12.8 points, respectively.

It was Sellitto who put HPU basketball on the map with a string of 20-plus win seasons in the 1990s, including the 30-4 national championship season when the Sea Warriors matched into Kansas City and heard their coach declare to anybody who would listen: "We're the best team here."

The Sea Warriors had seen little like it before his arrival from a 23-year stay at Maryknoll, where he was 374-71. And then, it suffered in his absence. In the six years Sellitto was out of coaching for medical reasons, HPU had but one winning season. No wonder they summoned him back.

The Sea Warriors still don't have a steadfast home to call their own, practicing at as many as three sites and playing their games at two. But, in the second year of Sellitto's return, they do have some talented players.

And they have a head coach for whom nothing would be more fitting than going out with a roar.