By Brian McInnis
Hoops fans at the Manoa District Park gym were treated to quite the contest on Saturday night between the league leaders of the 36th College Summer League, unbeatens Flipbooks Hawaii (4-0) and Grantco Pacific (3-0).
The infusion of current UH players this week for summer school undoubtedly helped spice things up, but leave it to one of the old guard to have the last word on the matter.
UH alum Julian Sensley put the exclamation point on a back-and-forth affair, taking an inbounds pass with about 3 seconds left, up-faking then hitting a 30-footer at the buzzer to give Grantco a 105-104 win.
The game was also remarkable for the performances of UH players Christian Standhardinger (team-high 28 points for Flipbooks) and Caleb Dressler (24 points in his debut with Grantco). Walk-on Michael Harper also showcased some ability in limited minutes, hitting his first two 3-point attempts off the bench.
The 6-foot-10 Dressler helped Grantco come back with a big 17-foot baseline jumper with about 5 seconds left. After Flipbooks converted one of two free throws, Dressler cleared the rebound and his team called timeout, eventually setting up Sensley's shot.
"That last 7 minutes everybody pulled together and contributed," Sensley said. "Seems like everybody's picked up more players now. The league actually got better today. Teams look a lot bigger than they did the last couple weeks. The UH guys came back. We play (Flipbooks) again Tuesday and we gotta come ready to play. But it's good fun. It's good for me, I look forward to this during the summer. It's a good way to stay in shape and see all my old friends."
Sensley was asked when his last game winner was.
"He hasn't had one, because he didn't have a poker face after he hit it," chimed in fellow UH alum and Ryne Holliday, poking fun at Sensley's celebratory swagger. "He was like a kid in a candy store."
"Actually I hit one this last season in Puerto Rico," Sensley said. "But I'm not one of those guys who hit very many. I probably had three my whole life, four maybe."
The past year was a whirlwind pro season for Sensley — but one he considered his best overall since he finished playing at UH in 2006. He went from Greece to the NBA's D-League, to Puerto Rico, to Venezuela.
"It was definitely a crazy year, but ironically my best year as a pro," Sensley said. "I have no idea yet (what I'm doing next). I have some options on the table, but right now it's a waiting game. Us guys overseas, it's a year-to-year basis. For me I always try to sign late and see what happens. By early August I'll know what's going on."
Sensley clearly enjoyed playing alongside Dressler for the first time, finding the young big man for several easy baskets inside.
"He's young, but he's skilled for a guy his size. He showed that he can extend his range and shoot 3s. It was the first time I'd seen him play, but he hit big shots for us. Next to my game winning shot, I'd say the biggest shot was the one he hit on the baseline. He's going to be all right, a freshman coming in, 18, 19 years old. He's going to do well for UH."
Dressler, who arrived from Washington late Wednesday night, said he's been trying to shed about 10 to 15 pounds that he gained from weightlifting after his senior year at Evergreen High.
In the meantime, his introduction to NCAA summer league play was highly memorable.
"That was really intense," Dressler said. "Probably my first game against real competition, and I thought I actually did really well for how I thought I was going to do. (The finish) was fantastic. I can't wait to play in this league, it's going to be really fun."
On playing with Sensley, he said, "I'm learning from him, asking him questions. I'm just trying to get different things going from him. Learn new tactics, like a sponge. He's great, a really good shooter and facilitator. ... I just keep my hands up in the paint (to catch passes). If he finds me, it's great."
He's candid that the college game will be a work in progress.
"(At Evergreen) I would sit in the middle of a zone and play defense from there, I would never actually move around and play actual defense. I'm learning pretty much from square one, everything."
It certainly wasn't bad for a first look in the summer, though.
Standhardinger, an extremely competitive player, won't be forgetting that result anytime soon. Even if it's only summer league.
"Everybody played good, but at the end the had the certain edge of luck you need to win certain games," the German said. "We'll take this pain to work harder next game. I'm confident that we will win the next game."
Umm, so about that competitiveness ...
"Every game," the 6-foot-8 forward said. "If I play Monopoly with my friends. If I play mini-golf with my mom. Bowling with my friends. I always want to win. And summer league is a very good opportunity for that. I give everything to just win, and I think that's what our team is about next year. Winning."
He offered up his thoughts on his new UH teammates who played in the game. He was surprised and impressed with Dressler's 3-point range — the big man sunk a couple deep set shots when left alone.
"He never shot those 3s (in open gym). Caleb's a very good asset for our team. New coming in, he's a big body down there. I talked to him a little bit, a very very humble guy. Willing to listen, wanting to learn from everybody. Coaches, older players. I think that's amazing, and his best skill. With his body, there will be not a lot of people who can hold him. Just a question of time.
"Mike is a tough player. He really wants to win. He has a very high motor ... He can shoot the lights out from 3-point range, and cuts very well. Just never stops. I heard he runs the mile in 5 minutes, so that's a guy with a motor, and big support for our team next year."
Harper said of his outing, "I was definitely looking for my shot, but looking to pass as well. Pretty good game all around, I reckon."
Freshman guard Manroop Clair would have made his debut for Flipbooks, but he was out with a sore ankle.
It was unfair to expect the second game of the night to live up to the first — and it didn't. The nightcap, between National Fire Protection (2-3) and Wealth Strategy (0-6), was a 113-91 blowout for Nat'l Fire.
UH junior Garrett Jefferson scored 23 points in a losing effort. His W.S. teammate Brandon Jawato did not play because of a nagging injury. Newcomer Isaac Fotu played sparingly for National Fire to rest his shoulder after an impressive outing on Thursday.
"Feels good to finally get playing in Hawaii," Fotu said. "Been a long time coming, but it feels good. Just have to get back in shape with all the workouts. ... I want to work on my moves a bit, work on the new style of basketball in America. Get ready for the season. The athleticism over here is a bit better than New Zealand. Just gotta work hard."
Jefferson likewise has been working hard this offseason on his offensive game, and on this night he certainly looked more comfortable around the perimeter and at the free-throw line.
"This offseason I've been working on a lot of spot-up shooting, and definitely my free-throws," Jefferson said. "I'm trying to make it transfer over to a game. Get the confidence down. I just want every shot to feel the same."
He added a couple high-elevation dunks to add some flavor to the blowout.
"Hopefully we get a couple wins. We gotta win a couple games. For me, I just want to work on the stuff I've been working on in the gym during the game. Find the spots where I can shoot, and knock down free throws."