By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
When GE Coleman was hired as the new University of Hawaii at Hilo basketball coach in July, he had to hit the floor running while trying to bring in talent to upgrade his roster.
Now, a little over two months into the job, the 31-year-old Coleman has brought in eight recruits to join six returnees and a promising local walk-on to bolster a team which went 6-19 overall and 4-13 in the Pacific West Conference last year.
“Our goal was to bring in more athleticism to the program and I think we accomplished that,” said Coleman, the former Central Washington University associate head coach who was hired July 1 as the Vulcans coach.
“We’ve added some size and quickness to the team so that we can play the type of basketball we want to play — putting defensive pressure on for 94 feet,” Coleman said. “We really want to get after it defensively. We’ll use four or five presses, and then we’ll play man 85 percent of the time when we’re in the half court.”
Coleman and assistant coach Tyson Sturza hit the recruiting trail hard in July and August and believe they’ve brought in enough talent to make a difference in their first season at UHH.
“We’ve got some athletes and added more quickness,” Coleman said. “But the biggest thing now is to get them into shape to play the type of basketball we want to play. We’ve also got to get them to play together as a team, on both offense and defense, if we’re going to be successful.
“But I like the guys on the team and believe we can have a really solid season. I know everyone will work hard and if we can all be on the same page, we’ll be able to do what we need to do.”
The recruits include:
• Jeff Perkins, a 6-foot-6 junior from Seattle. He transfers from Utah State University-Eastern where he averaged 10.2 points per game on a 14-17 squad.
• Dom Campbell, a 6-6 junior from Apple Valley, Calif. He played last year at Tacoma Community College under coach Carl Howell. Due to a foot injury, Campbell played only 12 games and averaged 2.8 points per game.
• JaMario Clayton, a 5-9 combo guard out of Durham, N.C. He averaged 26.1 points while playing at Ocean County College in Toms River, N.J. and earned JC All-America first-team honors.
Clayton scored over 1,000 points in his two seasons at the New Jersey junior college.
Former UHH standout Andy Smith, the current Ocean County College head coach, helped Coleman sign the high-scoring Clayton, who is a junior.
• Yevgeniy Dyachenko, a 6-4 junior shooting guard from Sacramento, Calif. He played last year at powerful Yuba Community College, shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range and leading the state in 3-point shooting percentage.
“Yev played in a really strong program at Yuba and his coach called him the best shooter he’s had in 18 years at the college,” Coleman said.
• Darius Johnson-Wilson, a 6-6, 250-pound sophomore forward from Hilltop, Wash. He played at Tacoma CC last year and gives the Vulcans a strong inside presence.
• Kevin Dancer, a 6-6 junior forward from Pasadena, Calif. He played at Tacoma CC last year, averaging 19 points and was named the league’s most valuable player.
“Kevin is extremely athletic and can get to the rim,” Coleman said. “From 17 feet and in, he’s a scorer.”
• Darnell Williams, a 5-11 junior guard from Hilltop, Wash.
“Darnell’s younger brother played for us at Central Washington,” Coleman said. “Darnell is a deadly mid-range shooter and could be a dynamite defender for us.”
• Joey Rodriguez, a versatile 6-foot junior point guard who played at College of Marin and was named all-conference. He can play either guard spot and is an excellent defender.
Rodriguez was signed in June by then-Vulcan assistant coach Zac Zepponi, who oversaw the UHH men’s basketball program for two months after former coach Jeff Law resigned after 15 seasons to coach at Western New Mexico. Zepponi is not returning as an assistant under Coleman.
The returnees include:
• Derek Owens, a 6-1 senior point guard from Tempe, Ariz. who averaged 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds to go along with 42 assists and 20 steals. He started 18 games and shot 83 percent (49 of 59) from the free-throw line.
• Lucas Swanson, a 6-2 senior shooting guard from Vancouver, Wash., who averaged 5.8 points to go along with 20 steals. He started 12 games and shot 87 percent (20 of 23) from the free-throw line.
• Brandon Thomas, a 6-6 senior forward from Lakewood, Wash. who averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He started 17 games and was one the team’s top rebounders.
• Oxone-Ross Mavungu, a 6-4 senior forward from San Diego who averaged 3.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. He started five games for the Vulcans.
• Daniel Perry, a 5-11 guard and UHH graduate who has a year’s eligibility left to play. He came off the bench last year and saw limited action under Law.
• Mika Wong, a 6-0 junior guard out of St. Louis High School on Oahu. He also came off the bench last year and played limited minutes.
Randan Berinobis, a 6-2 guard, is walking on after a standout career at Hilo High School. He sat out last year at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California before transferring back to play for the Vulcans. He will have four seasons to play for Coleman.
The Vulcans open their season on Nov. 8, playing St. Martin’s University in the PacWest/GNAC Challenge Series at Chaminade. The Vuls then play Western Oregon in the second round of the four-team event, Nov. 9 on Oahu.
UHH will also play the University of Hawaii on Nov. 21 at Stan Sheriff Center. Coleman said UHH is waiting on the finalized contract before adding the game to the official schedule.
“I’m extremely excited and ready to go,” Coleman said. “The last couple of months have flown by and we’re not too far away from playing the games. We’ll start conditioning Sept. 9 and our first official practice is Oct. 15.”
Coleman said the Vulcans will lift weights and run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading into their first practice. On Tuesdays until Oct. 15, the UHH coaches will work with their players on individual drills; and on Thursdays, they will hold a team practice.
“The NCAA has changed its rules and now allow us to work two hours a day, two days a week with the players,” Coleman said. “We’re excited to get going. We can hardly wait until the games. We want to get our fans excited, too, and we’ll do our best to make this a really exciting year for Vulcan basketball.”