By Brian McInnis
It felt good to be back in the Manoa Park gym on Tuesday night. My welcome back from an 11-day East Coast trip was a tasty matchup between UH guards, Keith Shamburger of Clark Hatch Fitness and Garrett Nevels of National Fire Protection.
Freshmen Michael Thomas and Stefan Jovanovic also played and made their debuts for this blog.
Shamburger played an effective floor game, tallying 14 points and somewhere close to double-digit assists (no official count) in routinely getting his teammates easy baskets. Nevels sought out his own offense, scoring a difficult 25 points, and sat out down the stretch in a 108-74 loss. Clark Hatch improved to 3-4 while shorthanded National Fire (minus Isaac Fotu and DeAndre Haskins, among others) dropped to 4-3.
Thomas showed off some of his raw athleticism in the win for Clark Hatch, scoring 18. His perimeter shots weren't falling this time (he'll have to hit those eventually for Gib Arnold) but he's got an aggressiveness around the rim from his time playing in the post at El Camino Real High.
Thomas has enjoyed his opportunities playing with Shamburger, who's pegged as the starting point guard in the fall.
"It's a big deal to me. I think I can get more jelling in there with him, so we can flow on the court for practices and when we play during the season," Thomas said. "We were clicking well today. Just working hard, making shots. Keeping the game simple."
Preseason practices can get highly competitive, as guys are jockeying for roles and playing time. These games afford UH players an early chance to test their mettle against their peers.
"Playing against them, it's fun, it's competitive," Thomas said. "We talk smack to each other. We like to go at each other."
"I think I can bring solid offense, a few blocked shots, rebounds. Usually what every big man has to do," Jovanovic said. "As a freshman, I expect just to be part of the team. I don't know if I'm going to play or not going to play ... Coach Arnold, if I deserve it he's going to let me play."
Hawaii walk-on hopeful Malik Fields had a solid night for CHF, tallying 17 points. Defenders must respect his mid-range shot. He said he hasn't received word yet on a spot on the team, but he's impressed at least a few people in Manoa so far.
UH's Fotu is on the National Fire roster, but he has been out of commission with a small meniscus tear in his right knee after playing little more than a game in the league. Fotu said he could play now but doesn't want to take any chances, so the odds of seeing him in remaining summer league games aren't great, unfortunately.
Who says you can't put on a show in a lopsided loss?
That was the story of Game 2, in which Grantco Pacific's Aaron Valdes went off for 37 points in a 118-99 win by Solar Universe.
The 6-5 UH redshirt freshman unleashed a torrent of crowd-pleasing dunks, including an off-the-glass-to-himself one-handed tomahawk in the final seconds.
He also showcased a much-improved 3-point shot while blocking a few shots and running the point as Grantco's de facto point guard.
"I think it was good. It gave me a chance to show people what I could do after sitting out a year. Coach (Allan Silva) gave me some freedom out there," Valdes said. "He lets the ball run through me a little, so I could get a lot of guys open out there."
And of course, there were the dunks of several varieties — reversals, near-360s, and tip slams — for which he's become known.
"Just trying to show them what I could do out there," he said, smiling.
'Iolani/Washington State alum Derrick Low returned from the NBA summer league and was in action for Solar, though he didn't have to do much in a four-point night. UH teammates Brandon Spearman (22 points), Niko Filipovich (20) and Negus Webster-Chan (16) carried the offensive load as the game was never really in doubt, except for how many fans Valdes could earn in a single game. Second-place Solar improved to 5-2 while last-place Grantco fell to 1-6.
Shamburger, Thomas and others sitting courtside after Game 1 ate up the highlights. Some more nights like that from Valdes will generate some buzz going into the fall.
Summer league legend Llewellyn Smalley was in the building on Tuesday, and word is he's going to suit up in games on Thursday and Saturday. Smalley, a Division II All-American and HPU's career leading scorer, used to torch everybody before moving to the East Coast. Come watch him do his thing while he's here for a few days.