HONOLULU — If a dark cloud has been hanging over the University of Hawaii men’s basketball program the past two months, it blew a little off course last Thursday night.
There was barely a hint of it during the team’s annual postseason banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki’s Hawaii Ballroom, as head coach Gib Arnold and a surprisingly large crowd of about 250 supporters showed how the program remains steadfast despite an ongoing NCAA investigation.
“I want this group to know … this program has never been healthier, and we are on solid, solid foundation,” Arnold said during his keynote address. “We are building this program the right way. We have done this the right way. We will continue to do this the right way. We aren’t cutting corners. If we have made a mistake, we acknowledge it, we learn from it, we’re stronger because of it. I’m proud to sleep well tonight knowing we’re doing everything we can so that the people of Hawaii can be proud of this basketball program.”
Arnold — and others at UH — had been mostly silent since the season ended abruptly on March 13 with a stunning 87-84 overtime loss to Cal State Northridge in the first round of the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, Calif. The major news surrounding the program since then has been centered around an NCAA investigation that reportedly started with an alleged mishandling of paperwork and now may be looking into other areas.
But Arnold maintains that the future is bright, and he is understandably proud of the three outgoing seniors and how they represented Rainbow Warrior basketball.
Reserve center Davis Rozitis, who earned his Bachelor’s degree in political science last year and played this past season as a graduate student, won the athletic department’s prestigious Jack Bonham Award on April 29 in recognition of outstanding performances on and off the field.
Rozitis is a three-time Academic All-Conference selection and has also been an integral member of the Student Advisory Athletic Committee (SAAC), serving as the lead representative for all UH male athletes.
“On the court, he has been a big part of our success the last four years,” Arnold said in a school statement. “His numbers don’t jump out at you, but his abilities, particularly on defense, have been a huge asset for our team. Off the court, Davis has made it a point to make a difference.”
Senior swingman Brandon Spearman was named the first recipient of the “Tip of the Spear Award,” given to the player who best represents the basketball program’s five core values of humility, passion, accountability, relentlessness and “teamanship.”
Arnold explained that in building a team-oriented culture, it was hard for him in the past to select and present the “Art Woolaway Most Outstanding Player” award.
“Even if you are the ‘Outstanding Player,’ someone had to pass you the ball,” Arnold said.
The “tip of the spear” refers to a story told by a combat Marine at Arnold’s church, with all fellow soldiers following the first group of Marines into battle behind enemy lines in Afghanistan. Spearman, a tri-captain, was often looked to as the Rainbow Warriors’ floor leader the past two seasons and he earned the award after a vote by teammates.
Spearman will graduate on May 17 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications.
The third senior, Christian Standhardinger, became the first UH player to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds in just two seasons, and was only the fourth Rainbow Warrior to do it overall. He was a two-time All-Big West first team selection, and will join Spearman at the May 17 graduation with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Starting point guard Keith Shamburger, who has announced plans to spend his final year of eligibility at a Mainland school, is scheduled to graduate this summer.
A handful of other Rainbow Warriors, including Isaac Fotu, Dyrbe Enos and Michael Thomas, were presented with certificates of academic recognition by the Big West Conference.
“This is a smart group of guys,” Arnold said.
The NCAA investigation is still ongoing, and the results and aftermath of its findings are anybody’s guess.
But in the meantime, Arnold maintains the success of the program — coming off its first 20-win season since 2003-2004, just four seasons removed from a 10-20 campaign before he took over — and overall quality of its student-athletes shows that things have changed for the better.
And he is promising better things yet to come.
“Our next step, right now we’ve got a good program — 20 wins is good — but we want to go from good to great, and that’s a hard step to take,” Arnold said. “But the only way to do that is to be able to deal with adversity … That’s exactly what this team is going to do, that’s exactly what I as their coach and (we) as a staff and as a program, we promise you that we will continue to do in building this program: We will stand and fight, and that’s exactly how you build championship teams.
“… Believe me, we’re just seeing the very, very start of how great we can be. We are going from good to great.”
Any current dark cloud notwithstanding, Arnold sees nothing but blue skies ahead.