By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
I love UH football. I love Rainbow Wahine volleyball. And no one is a better fan of the Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Raiders than yours truly. But my biggest sports passion is University of Hawaii men’s basketball. Always has been.
I started following the program during the “Fabulous Five” years, when I was only seven years old. I would watch the games on KGMB – Bob Sevey did the play-by-play, if I recall correctly – and keep stats of all the UH players: Nash, Freeman, Holiday, Davis, Penebacker, etc.
I’ve witnessed some great years and a few really down-in-the-dump years. (Seriously, 1 and 26?) But through it all, I never lost my love for Rainbow Warrior basketball. To this day, I am a proud season ticket holder.
What are some of the lasting memories you have about Rainbow Warrior basketball? Here are mine:
◊ I remember the championship game of the 1971 Rainbow Classic: Hawaii vs Arizona State. I was at a karate class in Pearl City. There was a TV by the wall, and our instructor stopped our class so we could catch the second half of the game. We watched in awe as Bob Nash grabbed rebound after rebound, leading the ’Bows to a rousing come-from-behind victory. Nash, the Tournament MVP, had 30 boards that night – still a UH record.
◊ I remember the UH band playing the overture from Jesus Christ Superstar after every home victory. It wasn’t until high school that I found out there were actual lyrics to the some.
◊ I remember listening to the radio as Weber State crushed my beloved “Fabulous Five” in the NCAA Tournament. I couldn’t believe the season could end like that. It seemed like every player on the UH team fouled out.
◊ I remember hearing about this new player that was going to play for Hawaii: Tom Henderson. He was billed as an All-American before he even reached the Islands. I didn’t even know that he played on the U.S. Olympic Team. I just knew that he was supposed to be a great player. And he was.
◊ I remember being the biggest Artie Wilson fan. Maybe it was the cool sideburns. To this day, I think the Henderson-Wilson duo is among the best backcourts in program history.
◊ I remember Victor “Tiny” Kelly, who stood about 5-7. Like Jerome Freeman and Tom Henderson, Kelly wore jersey #14, so I figured he must be good. I remember he made this double-clutch scoop shot in a game, and I would imitate it many times later on the playgrounds. My friends thought it looked goofy.
◊ I remember Hawaii hosting the San Francisco Dons for a pair of games. The Dons boasted three of the top high school recruits in the country: Bill Cartwright, James Hardy and Winford Boynes. Hawaii won the first game thanks to the stellar play of their own prized frosh: guard Reggie Carter, who dished out a school-record 19 assists in the victory.
◊ I remember learning about the NCAA investigating Hawaii for some violations. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t good.
◊ I remember UCLA transfer Gavin Smith shooting the ball. And shooting the ball. And shooting the ball. And shooting the ball.
◊ I remember the 1-and-26 year. It was during this dismal season that I realized that, yes, I was a UH basketball lifer.
◊ I remember the 1978-79 team, the one after 1-26. Head coach Larry Little restocked the team with a group of talented JC players, including Thomas Louden, Eric Bowman, Robert Smith and “Little” Joe Frazier. The center was holdover Tony Wells, who is one of the most underrated UH players ever.
◊ I remember guard Aaron Strayhorn, a transfer from Centenary. He had such a smooth looking jump shot. I started to imitate his shooting form at school (but with considerably less success).
◊ I remember watching a season-end video of UH players recounting their best moments of the season. Center Brad Pineau quipped, “I didn’t have one.”
◊ I remember Hawaii’s stunning 83-74 victory over nationally ranked Utah. The Utes had future NBA players Tom Chambers, Danny Vranes and Pace Mannion. The Rainbows played “stall ball” for much of the game. UH had five great guards on that team: Strayhorn, Tony Webster, Clarence “Pop” Dickerson and Ed “Racky” Sesler.
◊ I remember how happy I was when I found out that local high school standouts Sam Johnson and Dan Hale had signed to play for UH. I especially was excited about Johnson, who used to kill my school (Waipahu!) every time they played. Both Hale and Johnson had their moments, but they both left the program after a couple of seasons.
◊ I remember “Pop” Dickerson burying a long jumper at the final buzzer to beat the hated BYU Cougars. I remember Jim Leahey’s call: “Dickerson…his shot…YESSSSS!”
◊ More Leaheyisms: “He stops, he pops, he hits!” “Great catlike move!” “Oh, he peeked into the window that time!”
◊ I remember my Uncle Millard taking me to my first live UH game. The Rainbows hosted Cal State Fullerton and All-American guard Leon Wood. We had seats in the third row. For whatever reason, what I remember most was having my first up-close look at the UH cheerleaders.
◊ I remember watching a road game where point guard William Colton tossed an alley-oop pass to Andre Morgan, who caught the ball with one hand and threw it down for a thunderous slam. It might be the best dunk I’ve ever seen from a UH player.
◊ I remember interning at KGMB News. One night, I answered the phone. It was some guy at UH Athletics, notifying me of a major announcement that was going to take place the next day. The announcement had to do the “future of the basketball program.” Even as I walked the message over to Gary Sprinkle, I knew what that meant: Larry Little was going to be fired.
◊ I remember my reaction to the hiring of Frank Arnold as Little’s successor. “The old BYU guy?”
◊ I remember attending all twelve games of the 1986 Rainbow Classic. I even wrote a class paper about it. I titled it, “Hawaii Hoops Heaven.”
◊ I remember interviewing point guard Troy Bowe for a class assignment. Bowe was sitting out the year as a Prop 48 student. Before the interview, I saw Bob Nash smile and say to another assistant coach, “We got him!” That “him,” I learned later, was recruit Phil Lott.
◊ I remember Hawaii beating BYU, 68-66, in 1989. We stormed the court after the game. I was wearing a T-shirt that was inscribed with, “Beat – Smash – Destroy – Crush – Annihilate BYU!” Guard David Hallums saw the shirt and yelled, “Hey, nice shirt!”
◊ I remember Riley Wallace’s “Magnificent Seven” team that went 25-10 and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. Chris Gaines, Troy Bowe, Vincent Smalls, Terry Houston, Cliff Beaubrun, Phil Lott and Andrew McGuire. The second-round game at the Blaisdell was sold-out, and UH held off Long Beach State in a thriller.
◊ I remember the first game of the 1993-94 season. Hawaii lost to Portland by 53 points. I thought, “This year’s team is going to suck.” That team wound up going to the NCAA Tournament.
◊ I remember arriving in Phoenix to attend some Suns games. My Mom called me at the hotel and told me that Tes Whitlock hit an unbelievable shot to beat BYU at the buzzer. Later that night, watching the local news, they showed the play she was talking about. (The sports guy referred to Whitlock as “Former Arizona State Sun Devil Tes Whitlock…”)
◊ I remember doing a phone interview with Riley Wallace. “We got this kid, AC Carter, you’re going to like him,” he promised. “He’s got hops.”
◊ I remember Erin Galloway’s incredible blocked shot in Hawaii’s upset over No. 2-ranked Kansas in the 1997 Rainbow Classic championship.
◊ I remember being stunned after Hawaii loss to hated Fresno State in an NIT quarterfinal. It was AC Carter’s last game as a Rainbow Warrior. Afterward, he returned to the court and flung his shoes into the crowd. Everyone applauded him as he left the court for the final time.
◊ I remember the Savo and Carl English years. They seemed to win every big game. I remember reading an article on the team in Sports Illustrated and thinking, “The program has hit the big time.”
◊ I remember writing a column for the now-defunct Downtown Planet, pushing for Bob Nash to be named as the successor to Riley Wallace. Looking back, the Nash Era didn’t quite work out, but I still believe he deserved that opportunity.
◊ I remember being cautiously optimistic when Hawaii hired Gib Arnold. A couple of seasons in, however, I started to question the way he was running the program. For the rest of his tenure at UH, I didn’t enjoy being a Rainbow Warrior fan. I found Fib to be hard to root for.
◊ I remember feeling relieved when UH cut ties with both Arnold and Benjy Taylor. I wasn’t sold on Eran Ganot, but I was very willing to give him a chance.
◊ I remember the joy I felt when Hawaii won an NCAA Tournament game for the very first time. They had a chance to beat Maryland in the second round, too.