By Brian McInnis
Congratulations to Solar Universe, which took home the 36th College Summer League championship on Saturday night with a 114-102 win in overtime over Flipbooks Hawaii.
It was an incredibly intense game. It felt borderline out of control at times; only one technical foul was issued, but it felt like several more were warranted. The packed crowd lent to the frenzied atmosphere in the Manoa Park Gym, kudos to you if you showed up for the league finale.
Brandon Spearman came alive when his undermanned team needed him, scoring 43 points in the win. He made the game-saving block on Kaunaoa McGee's jumper attempt at the end of regulation, then scored six of Solar's first seven points in the extra period.
"It felt good man, it felt real good," Spearman said. "We fought hard, real hard. It's an amazing feeling. I haven't felt this way since I won states (at Simeon in Chicago) back in high school my senior year. It showed me how much I love the game. Even in a summer league game, you get so hyped up and wanting to win. I just came out here and gave it my all."
Solar Universe, coached by Artie Wilson, was playing without both Derrick Low and Bobby Nash, two veterans of the summer circuit. Nonetheless, Solar exerted control in the first half — it led by eight at halftime — and built it up to double digits soon after the break. But Flipbooks, with multiple go-to scorers, went on a 15-0 run midway through the second half and took the lead. The top seed went up by six points with a couple minutes left, only to see that erased as Spearman hit a 3 and Rashaun Broadus (33 points) stole the ensuing inbounds pass and fed Nick Demusis for a score.
Solar drew even with 48 seconds left when Spearman hit Nahshon George with a keen bullet pass inside to tie things up at 101. Each team had chances to go ahead from there, but it would be settled in OT.
Flipbooks was hurting in the extra frame without Christian Standhardinger's presence in its front line; the UH junior fouled out late in the second half. The regular-season champ (it had previously lost only to Grantco Pacific on a Julian Sensley buzzer-beating deep 3) scored only a point in the extra period, as shots from McGee and Leon Ballard became increasingly forced.
"We wanted to come out strong (in OT), but that's what we did like the first half," Spearman said. "We gave it our all."
Spearman shook his head at the game's intensity and physicality. He had success driving to the rim and getting fouled (hard), or occasionally stepping out for 3s as well.
"Real intense. It was unbelievable," he said. "I haven't been in a game like that, like I said, since my senior year of high school."
McGee led Flipbooks with 25 points, while Ballard and Standhardinger added 24 apiece.
All in all, it was an exciting summer league season, one that effectively showcased the games of some of the incoming UH players fans otherwise wouldn't be familiar with.
Here's my take on what each Rainbow Warriors player in the summer league offered over these last few weeks:
>> Hauns Brereton was the league's scoring champ at 34.8 points per game. He had some ridiculous scoring outbursts (most notably his 47-point effort against Grantco Pacific on July 12). It won't be like that during the D-I season, obviously, but Brereton will still be counted on for more of a scoring role than he had last year. This was a positive sign in that regard — even if his shot selection in this kind of setting was sometimes forced and questionable.
>> Garrett Jefferson seems to have genuinely worked hard on his offensive game in the offseason, right down to his free throws, and it showed in several summer games. It still seems to be a work in progress, but by season's start expect Gib Arnold (and Jefferson) to have greater confidence in the springy one's overall role on the team.
>> Jace Tavita is currently in line to see plenty of minutes at point guard for the 'Bows. His summer league showings were a mixed bag. Sometimes he could find his Central Medical teammate Brereton for open shots consistently. Other times, he'd take 3-pointers, and that was a risky proposition. When he's feeling it, he can hit. One of his greatest assets is still his size at his position, allowing him to guard forwards and even centers.
>> Brandon Spearman saved his most impressive summer showing for last, when (as seen above) he went off in the summer league title game. It was hard to get too amped on Spearman's showings prior to this. But he's shown flashes of ability in enough areas of the game that it's obvious UH will count on him for production this coming season, either at the 2 or the 1.
>> Brandon Jawato was a little late to the summer party after an ankle injury, but he had a couple nice scoring games near the end. He's noticeably slimmed down from his redshirt freshman season and looks poised to compete for minutes at the 2.
>> Dyrbe Enos can shoot, and he's not afraid to pull the trigger. A nice combination. His youth and small stature will be tough to overcome to have a Miah-esque renaissance in college, but give it time and who knows? He may find himself thrown in there at some point. And at least in this summer setting, he's knocked down a few shots.
>> Isaac Fotu was something to behold in these games. That's probably already come across in these blog entries, but to reiterate, the New Zealander with the poofy 'fro was the most impressive UH player over these past few weeks. Perhaps not in terms of pure scoring, but Fotu made the most of his touches, consistently, either by finishing inside with his tractor beam-like hands or passing out to open shooters. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Fotu carves out for himself as a true freshman this coming season, with competition against ....
>> Christian Standhardinger let everybody in Manoa know how he plays, in any game, regardless of its meaning toward standings or statistics. Hard. The German gets into it with refs, opponents, you name it. But he also gets a few baskets a game just by outworking his man. He'll be the most expressive 'Bow by far this coming season, and a lightning rod for fans both at home and on the road.
>> Caleb Dressler was, by his own admission, overweight when he first arrived. But the true freshman seems to have rounded closer into shape through these summer league games and the regular open gym sessions on campus. He's not a quick player right now, but he's got an accurate lefty hook shot and a soft touch, even showing some 3-point range when he steps out. Dressler has stiff competition at his power forward position with Fotu and Standhardinger; it's possible he is a redshirt candidate.
>> Michael Harper came into the summer league as a total unknown, but he didn't leave that way. The left-handed Aussie can straight-up shoot. He's transitioning into being a point guard for UH, which could be problematic in that his ball-handling isn't his greatest attribute. But Harper is an aggressive player, helping make up for average speed. He could crack into the UH guard rotation this year.
>> Manroop Clair gets an INC for his brief summer league showing. He appeared in just one game late in the season after shaking off an ankle injury. But he barely got onto the court even then, putting up seven shots in about nine minutes. His form is pure (and off in that game), but it was impossible to make any kind of judgement on so small a sample size.