By Brian McInnis
The Hawaii men's basketball team got under way with the first of 30 full preseason practices at the Stan Sheriff Center on Monday.
"I thought the defensive intensity was outstanding," UH coach Gib Arnold said afterward. "You could really see nice quickness defensively. And I was pleased with that. I don't expect us to be perfect, but I expect us to go hard. They did exactly that; they weren't perfect, but they went hard. ... Overall I thought it was a very good practice."
The focus of practice was predictably defense, though some offense sets were introduced late in the session. Arnold said he'd approach this first week of practices the same, even with two extra weeks with the bumped-up start date to practices from past years. Thirty practices (the new NCAA preseason limit) in 42 days out from the season opener comes out to five practices a week for six weeks. That's less of a concentration of practice time in any given week than in the past, Arnold explained, so the total amount of added time over six weeks is really only about six or seven practices, and not, say, 10 or 12 — so he won't be changing tactics drastically.
All 17 players were present and participated, save Missouri transfer Negus Webster-Chan, who is mourning the death of two aunts back in his native Toronto. Condolences again to him, just an awful situation. He isn't expected back until after Wednesday.
Junior guard Garrett Nevels was impressive in his first full UH practice. He was aggressive defensively and, as expected, didn't hold back on his shot when he saw any daylight. He earned praise from the UH coaches at several points.
It was an encouraging sign for UH to see Brandon Spearman back at full health and in high spirits. The senior captain showed again he'll be an instrumental piece of the puzzle for the Rainbow Warriors with his all-around game.
Redshirt freshman Aaron Valdes was relatively quiet in his first practice coming off his breakout summer league performance, but he's got the advantage of time to show off his improvement.
True frosh Mike Thomas had some nice finishes and hustle plays. "He's a guy who's going to keep getting better and better, and you can see that already," Arnold said.
Forward Isaac Fotu and guard Brandon Jawato were full participants, which is still a good sign coming off their respective knee and foot offseason injuries.
More on Monday's practice in Tuesday's edition of the Star-Advertiser, (sub required) and more here on Tuesday's practice later in the day.
Texas native Warren Oishi was hoping to walk on with the team. That didn't happen, but the guard was offered a student assistant/manager position and has taken Arnold up on it. Arnold introduced him to his players at the start of practice. It seems Oishi will fill some or all of the role that manager/emergency scout player Nick Milan had with the team over the last three years.
Former UH center Ji Xiang is making good on his vow to come back to help the program. The resident Neighborhood Ninja is helping as a graduate assistant at present and looks almost exactly the same.