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Fill the Pukas

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

When the 2020-21 University of Hawaii men’s basketball season tipped off on Dec. 11 against HPU, the team had only three returning players who played meaningful minutes the year prior. But with an influx of promising talent and experienced transfers, the Rainbow Warriors looked poised to be a top contender in the Big West Conference for the next few seasons.

Instead, here we go again.

The so-called “transfer epidemic” has again hit the UH program hard. Justin Webster, the team’s leading scorer, announced after the season that he was entering the NCAA transfer porter. Then James Jean-Marie, Hawaii’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder, announced that he would also enter the transfer portal. Kameron Ng and Justin Hemsley followed suit, and most recently freshman guard Biwali Bayles announced that he was leaving the program to seek a professional basketball career in his native Australia.

In terms of numbers, Hawaii lost 63 percent of their scoring and 77 percent of their rebounding from this past season, leaving head coach Eran Ganot and his staff again having to rebuild their roster.

Barring more departures, here are the players expected to return for the 2021-22 season:

JUNIOR MADUT, a 6’6 wing player (16 starts, 10.5 points and 4.2 rebounds a game )

MATE COLINA, a 7’0 center (6 starts, 6.5 points and 5.1 boards a game)

NOEL COLEMAN, a 6’1 combo guard (9 starts, 5.8 ppg)

JOVON MCCLANAHAN, a 5’11 point guard (6 starts, 3.2 ppg, 2.4 apg)

BEON RILEY, a 6’5 forward (0.8 ppg)

BERNARDO DA SILVA, a 6’9 forward-center (1.0 ppg)

ZOAR NEDD, a 6’7 forward (1.2 ppg)

SAMUTA AVEA, a 6’6 forward who opted out of last season over COVID-19 concerns.

Nedd is a walk-on, which means Hawaii has six scholarships to fill for next season. One is expected to be awarded to JEROME DESROSIERS, a 6’7, 230-lb. graduate transfer who started 29 games for Princeton over three seasons.

What positions will Hawaii be targeting to fill out the roster? Here are the primary needs:

1. SHOOTERS. The Rainbow Warriors made 164 three-pointers last season, with Webster, Jean-Marie, Bayles, Hemsley and Casdon Jardine accounting for 104 of them. The hope is that Desrosiers can provide help from beyond the arc – he had 89 three-pointers at Princeton over three seasons – but Hawaii is a team that relies on the three-ball. Look for the coaches to bring in at least two more wing players with range.

2. A FLOOR GENERAL. The good news is that, after a slow start, McClanahan came on strong toward the end of the season. If he can continue to improve, there’s no reason he can’t be a solid floor leader for the ’Bows next season. Still, the team will need another player or two to add competition and depth at the all-important point position. Losing Bayles hurt.

3. INTERIOR HELP. Colina had his best year as a Rainbow Warrior last season, and he provides a dependable inside presence on both ends of the court. While Jean-Marie’s departure was expected, it still leaves a big hole in the post. A healthy Da Silva would certainly help, as the promising sophomore missed most of last season due to an injury. Again, adding another big body will be necessary for depth.

One last note: The big wildcard is Samuta Avea. If the Kahuku product follows through on his plans to return to the program next season, he’ll instantly be counted on to provide scoring, rebounds, defense and leadership. The thought of Avea and Madut on the court together is pretty exciting.

But as we’ve all learned of late, nothing is certain these days.

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