By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
Can a team lose its best player and be just as successful the next season? If you’re the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine basketball team, the answer to that question could definitely could be…maybe.
The Rainbow Wahine had a terrific 2021-22 campaign, going 20-10 and winning both the Big West Conference regular-season title and postseason tournament. The team’s lopsided loss to No. 2-seed Baylor in the NCAA Tournament did little to diminish the accomplishments of head coach Laura Beeman, her staff and her players.
And next season? The good news is that all but one player is expected to return. The bad news is that one player happens to be Amy Atwell, the reigning Big West Player of the Year and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
To say the Rainbow Wahine will miss Atwell’s abilities and leadership would be an obvious understatement. But an argument could be made that the 2022-23 edition of the Rainbow Wahine could be just as good as this past season’s squad. Maybe even better.
Remember, Atwell only averaged 4.3 and 4.8 points per game in her first two seasons in a Hawaii uniform. Her steady improvement is a testament to both her work ethic and the coaching staff’s ability to develop its players.
Hawaii has a core of returning players whose best years are still ahead of them, including guards Daejah Phillips, Olivia Davies, Kelcie Imai, Meilani McBee and forwards Nnenna Orji and Jacque David – all of whom will be sophomores. Two more potential starters, Nae Nae Calhoun and Ashley Thoms, will be juniors. Then add post player Kallin Spiller who, although listed as a graduate senior, still has a year of eligibility remaining. With a full year under their belts, these returnees could form the nucleus of a very balanced and talented team.
Add to the mix three promising newcomers, including 6’4” forward Imani Perez from Denver, Colorado and 6’0” forward Avery Watkins from Seattle, Washington. Hawaii fans are undoubtedly most excited about the third recruit: 5’8” guard Jovi Wahinekapu Lefotu, who was recently named the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s State Player of the Year. In her four years at Iolani, the multi-talented Lefotu led the Raiders to three state championships. She is expected to make an immediate impact for UH next season.
Of course, the most important ”returnee” is Beeman, the reigning Big West Coach of the Year. Beeman does a masterful job of building team chemistry and getting the most out of her players. She’ll have a lot of pieces to work with next season.
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