Tuesday | November 21, 2017
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College basketball: NCAA clouds gone, Hawaii starts with clear slate

The challenges exist wholly within the 94 by 50-foot confines of a basketball court for Hawaii in the 2017-18 season.

What a concept.

“It’s refreshing,” said third-year coach Eran Ganot, exhaling deeply in a Stan Sheriff Center tunnel after a recent practice.

Freed from the yoke of harsh NCAA sanctions at the tail end of last season, the Rainbow Warriors open a fresh campaign Friday without significant off-court issues for the first time since 2013. That was a simpler time, a season before Gib Arnold was fired by the university mere days out from the 2014-15 opener for suspected — and later proven — NCAA violations.

UH eventually took its knocks, going 14-16 in 2016-17, the program’s first losing season in seven years. That was just a year after one of the finest squads in program history, with talent recruited primarily by Arnold but coached by Ganot, earned UH’s first NCAA Tournament win.

The swings of expectations have made for a wild ride for Ganot, his staff and 10 returning players.

“I like where we’re at, I like where we’re headed, and that’s both internally, externally,” he said. “We’re moving in a good direction. … Part of having a culture is having continuity. Older guys helping the younger guys in all areas, and I think we have some of that. We’re still obviously not as big as we’d like to be, not as old as we’d like to be. But that’s improved. And that’s the key thing.”

The ‘Bows were picked to finish fifth in the Big West, right where they finished in March by losing at Long Beach State in the regular-season finale and again to the 49ers in the BWC tournament first round.

UH lost wing Noah Allen, an all-conference first-teamer in his one year as a graduate transfer, and a couple of role players.

But buoyed by the return of forward Mike Thomas from an injury redshirt year, UH has an undersized but experienced frontcourt and six players with starting experience. There’s no proven go-to player, meaning Ganot could be tinkering with lineups well into the season.

“We have to do a lot of work to make sure our guys are prepared for those lineups, or scenarios in a game,” he said. “It could be game to game, or within a game. Our guys have to be able to process and adjust on the fly, and that’s the beauty of the game we play.”

The Big West took a major step back in overall conference strength last year and is widely considered up for grabs again. Believe it — the ‘Bows are shooting for a conference championship out of the shadow of the NCAA.

“Our goals are high. Our expectations are high, and that’s a good thing,” Ganot said. “We want to put it out there.”

 

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