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Imposing Opposition

Finishing with a mediocre 12-16 record, the 1983-84 University of Hawaii men’s basketball team may not have been particularly special. In fact, it would prove to be the penultimate campaign for head coach Larry Little, who was dismissed after the following season.

Still, the year wasn’t without its highlights. Led by senior forwards Jack Miller and Greg Hicks, the Rainbow Warriors won four straight games to end the regular season, including a one-point thriller over Utah in Salt Lake City.

The Hawaii team also faced a unique array of high-profile opponents that season. It’s not every year, after all, that a team will encounter a future NBA Hall of Famer and three future Olympic gold medalists.

Oh, and an X-Man.

Here’s a look at some of the notable players who came, saw and (unfortunately) conquered UH in November and December of 1984:


Cal State Fullerton’s Leon Wood was a point guard on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team.


He sauntered onto the Neal Blaisdell Arena court with “The Wood” emblazoned on the back of his warmup jacket. Then, when the game began, Cal State Fullerton guard Leon Wood laid the wood on the Rainbow Warriors.

The All-American candidate converted 13 of his 17 shots and made all 8 of his free throws for a game-high 34 points. Wood also dished out 8 assists and had two steals, leading the Titans to an easy 90-60 Tip-Off Tournament championship victory over the stunned home team.

“Can I have a championship ballot?” remarked former UH head coach Red Rocha to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s Jim Easterwood. “He’s the first player I’ve seen where I’d like a vote.”

Said Little: “(Wood) keys everything they do. Certainly, if this team plays as well as they did tonight, you’ll see them in the playoffs in March.”

The Titans failed to reach the NCAA Tournament that season, but Wood went on to help Team USA win the gold medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. That team was coached by the legendary Bob Knight and also featured Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Wayman Tisdale and Sam Perkins.

The Philadelphia 76ers selected Wood with the 10th overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. Wood was the team’s second pick in that draft. The Sixers tabbed some guy named Charles Barkley with pick No. 5.


Wichita State’s Xavier McDaniel led the country in scoring and rebounding.


Xavier McDaniel was known for two superpowers: He could rebound – he was the country’s leading rebounder the previous season – and he could score.

Against the Rainbow Warriors, the 6-7 forward nicknamed “X-Man” showcased both abilities in spades. McDaniel put up 18 points and snared 19 boards for the Wichita State Shockers, who beat Hawaii, 89-68.

Jack Miller led the Rainbow Warriors with 23 points. Former Punahou standout Dan Hale added 12.

The next season, McDaniel became the first player to lead the nation in both scoring (27.4) and rebounding (15.0). The Seattle Supersonics selected him with the 4th overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft, and McDaniel finished second to Patrick Ewing in “Rookie of the Year” voting.


As “The Mailman,” Louisiana Tech’s Karl Malone always delivered.


Karl Malone and his Louisiana Tech teammates did the tourist thing before playing Hawaii, but once the game started, they were all business.

“We had all that scuba diving in our system the first half; we looked a little weary,” said Malone. (The Bulldogs led UH, 33-30, at halftime.) “But in the second half we started rebounding and playing a lot of defense. We [also] got a lot of blocked shots.”

“The Mailman” delivered 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulldogs, leading his team to a 76-63 win over the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii was once again led by Miller, who had 21 points. Former Moanalua product Sam Johnson chipped in with 14 for the ’Bows.

Basketball fans know the rest. Malone went on to play 19 seasons in the NBA, leading the Utah Jazz to two NBA Finals appearances. He was a member of the original 1992 USA Dream Team, and won a second gold medal as part of Team USA in the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The two-time league MVP was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.


SMU’s Jon Koncak (far right, holding trophy) was the 1983 Rainbow Classic MOP.


Unlike Karl Malone, SMU center Jon Koncak had no real desire to take in the tropical allure of the Islands.

The Star-Bulletin’s Jim Easterwood reported: “[Koncak] stayed in his hotel room conserving his strength. He was determined to be white lightning, not beet red. And a Koncak at his best is pretty devastating.”

The seven-foot, 240-pound giant was definitely at his best against Hawaii. Koncak recorded 19 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 blocked shots, leading the Mustangs to an 82-73 win over the Rainbow Warriors in the championship game of the Rainbow Classic. Koncak finished the three-night event with a tournament record 13 blocked shots.

“The guy was just so much heavier and stronger,” lamented Hawaii center Ray Arthur. “I’d stand behind him and he’d back me up, post up and go for the layup. Jack [Miller] would front him, but then they’d lob over and he’d do the same thing.”

Koncak was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The All-Tournament Team included Hawaii forwards Jack Miller and Greg Hicks.

Following the season, Koncak was part of the gold medal-winning 1984 U.S. Olympic Team. The Atlanta Hawks made him the fifth overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.

Unfortunately, he never lived up to expectations in the NBA, averaging just 4.5 points a game over ten seasons. Despite his disappointing play, the Hawks re-signed Koncak to a then-unheard of six-year, $13-million contract. As a result, he was saddled with the nickname, “Jon Contract.”

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