Celebrating the Fabulous Five

Celebrating the Fabulous Five

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the University of Hawaii men’s basketball program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the school will be honoring members of the famed “Fabulous Five” teams during tonight’s UH-Cal Poly game at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. ESPN Honolulu was contributed a feature story to UH Athletics that chronicles the story of the Fabulous Five. The article includes interviews with each Fabulous Five starter: Bob Nash, Jerome Freeman, Al Davis, John Penebacker and Dwight Holiday.

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The University of Hawai‘i basketball program’s “Fabulous Five” era lasted just two seasons – 1970-71 and 1971-72 – but, oh, what an era it was.

Al Davis. Jerome Freeman. Dwight Holiday. Bob Nash. John Penebacker. These five young men came to the Islands and, along with their teammates and their head coach, Red Rocha, put Rainbow Warrior basketball on the college basketball map. Their accomplishments included a number of notable firsts: the program’s first postseason appearance, its first win over a ranked opponent, its first Rainbow Classic championship and its first national ranking.

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of perhaps the Fabulous Five’s crowning achievement: Hawai‘i’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Ephraim “Red” Rocha had a feeling the 1970-71 season was going to bring more wins. It had to. The school’s eighth-year head coach was coming off a miserable 6-20 campaign the previous year.

Penebacker was a freshman on that 1969-70 squad. “It was very troublesome,” he recalls. “I almost transferred.”

But help was on the way in the form of four talented junior college transfers. Holiday was a 6’4” sharpshooter out of Hartnell Junior College in California. Freeman was a 5’9” ball-handling wizard who played at Mineral Area Junior College in Missouri. The 6’7” Davis, Freeman’s high school classmate, had been a star forward at College of Southern Idaho.

Then there was 6’8” Nash, an Athens, Georgia native who played two seasons at San Jacinto College in Texas.

“The University of Kansas was pursuing me pretty heavily, and I actually signed my portion of the Letter of Intent to go [be a Jayhawk],” Nash recalls. “Then I had a home visit from their coach, Ted Owens, and he gave me his spiel and his expectations for the upcoming season. After talking extensively with him, something just didn’t seem right. So I asked my Mom not to sign her portion of the Letter of Intent. Jo Jo White of the Boston Celtics went to my Mom’s house to get her to sign, but she didn’t sign it. I was trying to figure out what to do when Red Rocha called and asked me if I would be interested in Hawai‘i. He brought in a film reel, and we watched a video on Hawai‘i. He told me about the struggles that the program had had. He was very honest in his approach, and there was just something about his personality that clicked with me. I decided that I would put my fate in his hand and that Hawai‘i was the best fit for me.”

How did Rocha know about his future All-American? Nash smiles.

“Hawai‘i used to send out all these postcards,” he explains. “The postcards said, ‘If you have any interest in Hawai‘i, fill this out and send it back.’ They sent it one of my teammates in junior college, and he said, ‘Well, I’m going to Bowling Green.’ So I filled out the postcard instead and sent it back. That’s how I got on their radar.”

To view the full article, which includes some great photos, click here: SIMPLY FABULOUS

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