By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
University of Hawaii at Hilo men’s basketball coach Jeff Law has added two players to cap his offseason recruiting for the 2012-13 season.
Law announced Friday that Robert Looper, a 6-foot-8 sophomore from Los Angeles Valley Community College, and Brandon Thomas, a 6-5 junior forward from Pierce Community College in Washington, will play for the Vulcans this coming season. They join previously announced recruits Derek Owen and Lucas Swanson from Clark Community College in Vancouver, Wash., and Oxone Mavungu from Grossmont Community College in Southern California in the class.
“We expect all five recruits to play significant time and challenge our five returning guys for minutes,” Law said. “We expect much more competitive practices and I don’t see anyone playing 40 minutes in a game. Our returning guys have been working hard on getting better and the new guys bring in some skills that we were weak in last year.”
Last season the Vulcans finished 9-17 overall and 3-15 in the rugged Pacific West Conference. Law, who is starting his 15th year at UHH, believes his 2012-13 squad will be more competitive.
Looper is a strong inside player who averaged 11.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for L.A. Valley.
“Robert is more of a center, a banger inside,” Law said. “He’s a strong kid and runs well. He had a good year and helped L.A. Valley make the playoffs. He just wants to play and I think he’ll be able to help us inside.”
Looper, who attended a prep school for a year before playing at L.A. Valley, shot 49 percent from the field and 74 percent from the free-throw line.
Two former L.A. Valley players, guards Alex Cabagnot and Ryan Abrahams, played for UHH under Law and enjoyed successful Vulcan careers.
Thomas sat out last year after plans to attend a small NCAA Division I program didn’t work out. But Law likes his skill set and ability “to always be around the ball.”
“Brandon is real athletic, a slasher, and he’s long and lanky,” the UHH coach said.
Owen is a 6-2 junior point guard who helped lead Clark to a 25-2 record and a division championship. He averaged 11 points and six assists per game. “He has a good basketball IQ,” Law said.
Swanson, a 6-3 junior guard, averaged 11 points and four rebounds per game, teaming with Owen to give Clark a productive backcourt.
Mavungu, a 6-4 junior forward, didn’t play last year. But the previous year at Grossmont, he was a force inside and out, averaging 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds. “Oxy is really athletic and should really help us in two or three different areas,” Law said.
Law’s five returnees are all seniors — CJ Brown, a 6-1 point guard; Mychael Hearn, a 6-1 guard; Kiel Myers, a 6-6 forward; Mike Melonas, a 6-6 forward; and Paul Batausa, a 5-8 point guard.
Brown (5.5 points per game, team-high 86 assists) and Batausa (4.2 ppg, 43 assists) shared time at the point last year.
Hearn averaged 9.2 points and 3.7 rebounds per game; Myers, 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game; and Melonas, 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
“We want to be a lot more competitive this year and play better basketball,” Law said. “The guys we’re bringing in should make a big difference, but we also need to have our returnees step up and contribute.”
Law also announced that assistant coach Tai Ando is not returning this year. Ando accepted a teaching and coaching job at Kapolei High School on Oahu. His future plans include teaching and coaching in Japan.
Don Caffee, who assisted last year, will return and Law said Zach Zepponi from California will join the staff as an assistant this coming season.
The young Zepponi was an assistant at Cal State San Marcos last year and previously spent three seasons as an assistant at Santa Barbara City College. Zepponi played high school basketball at Casa Grande in Petaluma, Calif. Two summers ago, Zepponi worked the Vulcans-Hawaii Basketball School with Law.