By Brian McInnis
Practice? Y'all want to talk about practice? Already?
Believe it or not (I can't), it's that time again, ladies and gents. The Hawaii men's basketball team starts up full practices for the 2013-14 season on Friday — a good two and a half weeks ahead of the traditional start to practices of past seasons around Oct. 15. The NCAA bumped up the time coaches get to spend with their players before the season, giving them 30 days of full practices to use over a 42-day period out from their first game. In the case of UH, that's Sept. 27, 42 days removed from the season opener Nov. 8 vs. Tennessee State.
UPDATED: Per UH on Thursday, the first official practice is moved to Monday, Sept. 30. Friday's session will be a closed preseason deal. Monday's practice, however, should be open to the public.
So, to recap the offseason's events: There wasn't the same degree of roster turnover that was seen from Gib Arnold's group the past two summers, but that's not to say there was none. Here's a summary of the additions and losses from the 2012-13 'Bows:
Losses by graduation/eligibility: PG Jace Tavita; C Vander Joaquim; SF Hauns Brereton
Early losses: G Garrett Jefferson; SF Ozren Pavlovic; G Manroop Clair
Additions: G Garrett Nevels; PG Niko Filipovich; PG Quincy Smith; SG/SF Negus Webster-Chan; C Stefan Jovanovic; SG Jack Hackman; SF Michael Thomas
With a nod toward my man Jason Groves covering New Mexico State for the Las Cruces-Sun News, here's a few burning questions regarding the 'Bows heading into their first practice.
1) Will the 'Bows miss Vander Joaquim?
Many, I'm sure, would answer this with a resounding "NO!" after his lackluster final season. There were plenty of examples of the 'Bows playing better without him than with him on the floor, including the infamous Air Force game. But at his best, Joaquim was a force, and he often freed up Standhardinger to do all the Standhardinger-y things — weak-side putbacks, drives through the lane for layups — to which UH fans became accustomed. It's true his presence made it difficult at times for Isaac Fotu to get comfortable on the low block and showcase his effective post-up game. So with the sometimes-moody Joaquim gone now, it will be up to Standhardinger and Fotu, the only real power forwards on the roster, to up their production. It will be interesting to see how often UH goes with those two as its bigs vs. incorporating centers Davis Rozitis, Stefan Jovanovic or Caleb Dressler into its frontcourt rotation. More of a low-post repertoire from Standhardinger would only help in this regard.
2) Will Quincy Smith challenge Keith Shamburger for the starting point guard job?
The assumption going into the offseason was that the San Jose State transfer Shamburger had the lead guard role for the 'Bows locked up, and that is still most likely the case. However, Smith, out of the City College of San Francisco, shined in his healthy moments during College Summer League play and had some entertaining head-to-head battles with Shamburger. Smith's weakness is his shot — he knows that — and he was convincing in his desire to address that hole in his game. At the very least, Smith will be a capable backup. UH will be well ahead at this position from last year, when it was a clear concern even when Jace Tavita was hitting shots; teams just wouldn't respect him out there most of the time, which caused all kinds of problems for UH on offense with teams sagging off. And behind him it was a train wreck with Garrett Jefferson, Ozren Pavlovic and Manroop Clair being used as converted point guards. Shamburger's year as the scout team point guard got him accustomed to Gib Arnold's sets and expectations so the transition, you would think, will be enough to hold off the capable Smith — but the next month will bear that out.
3) Will Aaron Valdes make his improvement translate to structured play?
Last season's resident tip-dunk champion from practices has a chance to be a meaningful rotation player this season for the Rainbow Warriors. Valdes shined in the summer league, even on a miserable team, earning surprise MVP honors. He was for stretches a must-watch and compelling reason to show up, blowout or no blowout. With an improved shot and handle in that free-flowing setting, to go with his rim-rattling dunks, Valdes was a highlight waiting to happen. Hauns Brereton's departure opens up playing time on the wing, depending if Arnold elects to go with a more traditional lineup with the 6-5 swingman Valdes, or a smaller lineup with Shamburger/Smith, Brandon Spearman and Garrett Nevels or Brandon Jawato. If the energetic Valdes can prove a grasp of Arnold's schemes in the halfcourt, he stands to earn a spot in the rotation, receive a scholarship, and make scores of UH fans happy. But, it bears pointing out that some of the more prominent scorers of the summer league in recent years were mediocre Division I players — sometimes it just doesn't translate.
4) Will any of the true freshmen contribute immediately?
This has the potential to be a huge factor regarding the overall quality of the 2013-14 'Bows. The true freshmen are Niko Filipovich, Stefan Jovanovic, Jack Hackman and Michael Thomas. Filipovich was up front about his willingness to redshirt this season, so he would seem to be the least likely candidate to jump in right away. Hackman was a late pickup, but one who desires to earn a scholarship and feels he can contribute with his shooting. Thomas has the largest pendulum swing of possibilities here. He was tentative for most of the summer league, but has the frame (should he grow into it) and athleticism to really shine if he fulfills his potential. On the other hand, the coaches may decide he could use an extra year to reach that level, and redshirt him. It seems stunning to say, but the previously unknown Jovanovic could be the favorite to get immediate playing time among the true freshmen. Jovanovic might be called on right away as a shot-blocker to boost a frontcourt untested beyond three players — Fotu, Standhardinger and Rozitis.
5) Will Negus Webster-Chan torch the UH first team?
There's no question Webster-Chan immediately became one of the most talented 'Bows on the roster upon his arrival from Missouri and his native Toronto. And he seems real in his desire to one day make the NBA. Truly great players should be able to overlook present circumstances and see a long-term opportunity, and that's what Webster-Chan has in the 2013-14 season. Well, the practices of the 2013-14 season, to be specific. He must toil on the scout team this season as a Division I transfer, a grind if there ever was one for a gifted player. Will Webster-Chan make the most of the opportunity to better himself while he waits, or will he rest on his laurels and let it go by? My money's on the former, and I'd be surprised if there aren't several 'wow' moments created by NWC, breaking up the monotony of practice for player, coach and media alike.
Always a good sign for a program when your first verbal commitment of the following year is out to the public a couple months removed from the early signing period; it lets the other prospects for that class know there's at least another guy willing to sign his name on the dotted line, assuming he follows through on it. UH got that with guard Isaac Fleming over the weekend (here was the breaking //and here was the full story).
Arnold's yearly "King of the Beach" competition was to take place Wednesday morning, but it was bumped to Saturday morning at the usual location at Queens Beach at 6 a.m. It always attracts a good amount of passersby-turned-spectators. The odds-on favorite is the spastic/insanely competitive Standhardinger, the defending champion.