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Sneak Peek: UH Men’s Basketball

Can a basketball program lose four starters – including it’s leading scorer, rebounder and playmaker – and still have have a better team? That’s the question facing the 2020-21 edition of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. From this past season’s 17-13 team, Eddie Stansberry and Zigmars Raimo have used up their eligibility, and Drew Buggs and Dawson Carper have transferred to other programs (Buggs to Missouri, Carper to Missouri State). In terms of sheer numbers, the four departures make up 58.5% of the team’s scoring, 53.9% of their rebounding and 76.4% of their assists.

Still, there is reason to believe that this coming season will produce, yes, an improved brand of Rainbow Warrior hoops.

One reason for the optimism is that the incoming class of recruits – three guards and three forwards – is loaded with potential. Another reason is that two of last season’s promising freshmen – guard Justin Webster and center Bernardo da Silva – should be even better as sophomores. Heralded 2019 recruit Junior Madut will be raring to go after redshirting last year. And oft-injured center-forward Owen Hulland should finally be at full health (crossing our fingers).

What might the 2020-21 Rainbow Warriors line-up look like? Here’s one projection. (It’s worth noting that the team still has two scholarships available.)

CENTER: The hope and expectation is that da Silva will add some muscle and strength to his 6-9, 200-lb. frame. He provided solid rebounding and interior defense last season, and even showed some potential as a scorer (he put up 17 against UTEP in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic). The sophomore-to-be should be the early favorite  to start at center. Seven-foot, 245-lb. Mate Colina is a capable backup.

POWER FORWARD: He’s probably better suited to play the 3 position, but the guess here is that prized recruit Manel Ayol is too good to keep out of the starting five. The 6-7 junior out of Melbourne, Australia (by way of Western Wyoming College) was an NJCAA Second-Team All-American last season after averaging 16.3 points and 8.4 boards per game. UH head coach Eran Ganot says Ayol has a unique combination of size, skill and athleticism. Hawaii will certainly miss Zigmars Raimo’s hustle and heady play, but the potential is there for Ayol to be an upgrade. Junior forward Justin Hemsley was a pleasant surprise last season and will see plenty of minutes at either forward position. If Owen Hulland can finally shake the injury bug, he should contribute at the 4 or 5 spot. And 6-7 forward Casdon Jardine, Hawaii’s most recent recruit, is a prolific three-point shooter who also finds ways to score inside the paint.

SMALL FORWARD: This past season, Kahuku alum Samuta Avea stepped up his game in a big way. He added a three-point shot to his arsenal and finished as the team’s second-leading scorer (10.8 ppg). Best of all, he shook off a mid-season back injury to post back-to-back career highs (18 and 20 points) in the final two games of the season. If the 6-6, 195-lb. Hau‘ula native can improve his ball-handling skills in the open court, he’ll become an even better scoring threat. As the only returning senior, Avea will also be expected to provide leadership. At 6-6, 230 lbs., incoming freshman Beon Ja Riley is a big body with point guard skills. Rainbow Warrior fans will enjoy watching  Riley, who one prep coach likens to former NBA guard Andre Miller. Redshirt sophomore Zoar Nedd will provide additional depth.

SHOOTING GUARD: Justin Webster had a strong freshman season for the ‘Bows, averaging 8.8 points in 27 appearances, including nine starts. He scored a career-high 18 points (all in the first half) in a road win over UC Riverside. He also posted 13 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists against Long Beach State. We’re penciling him in as the starting 2, although he can also fill in at point guard if necessary. Eligibility issues wiped out Junior Madut’s season in 2019-20, but the 6-5 junior shooting guard is expected to make a splash when the new season rolls around. It won’t surprise us if Madut winds up as a starter. He and Ayol are longtime friends and may provide a dynamic combo at the wing positions.

POINT GUARD: The key to success for this season’s team may well be incoming sophomore JoVon McClanahan. The talented 5-11 guard averaged 23.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game last season at Sheridan College in Wyoming. But can he run Hawaii’s offense and be the proverbial “coach on the floor” that Buggs was? Is so, then watch out. McClanahan will definitely be a scoring threat and is a willing distributor, to boot. Another freshman newcomer, Biwali Bayles, was a member of Australia’s U18 national team. The 6-1 Bayles once put up 30 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in a tournament quarterfinal. Hawaii’s Kameron Ng could see minutes at either guard position off the bench. Transfer Noel Coleman is a future prospect at this position.

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