By Brian McInnis
Coming off a remarkable 2-0 road trip, one should expect a pretty good turnout at the Stan Sheriff Center for tonight's Hawaii basketball game against three-time defending champion Long Beach State.
UH (14-5, 3-2 Big West) was down forward Isaac Fotu in Wednesday's practice for general fatigue, apparently, but coach Gib Arnold said he'd be available for today's game. The 'Bows dodged a bullet with Fotu's hand injury in December (no games were missed) and his importance to the team can't really be overstated.
The 'Bows will try to stop 49ers guard Mike Caffey, first and foremost. Caffey has run the LBSU offense the last two and a half years, basically, and leads The Beach in a number of categories. Guard Tyler Lamb, the UCLA transfer, has been hot and cold since gaining eligibility in December, but when he's been on LBSU has been formidable.
Keep your eye on bench production now that the team is back home. Arnold will probably want to get those guys some work coming off a trip in which production from reserves was next to zero.
This week has been the first real work as a Rainbow Warrior for Stefan Jankovic, the Missouri transfer. He's showcased a bit of his shooting ability and has blocked a few shots with his 6-10 frame in practices. His conditioning isn't quite there yet, as he was shelved for a few months while looking for a new home.
"I'm going in every day trying to make the team better," Jankovic said this week. "I won't be eligible (until December) obviously, I can't go in game time, but practice is my game right now. I'll embrace that and make the most out of it."
He's alongside his ex-MU buddy, Negus Webster-Chan, on the scout team.
"It definitely helps," Jankovic said. "Looking over on the wing, I'll see Negus ... it's cool. It reminds me of back in Missouri, playing with him in high school and this and that. It's definitely cool."
The timing of Jankovic's addition to the scout team has been important, because freshman Niko Filipovich, the redshirting point guard, is likely done for the season's practices after injuring his left knee prior to the team's road trip last week. Filipovich has watched practices from the sidelines this week while wrapped up in a long boot sleeve on his left leg.
It's a tough break for Filipovich, who's been in and out of the practice lineup all season. He's a fiery competitor and could contribute next season.
One reason today's crowd should be a good one is the return of Jamie Smith, the former video coordinator who boosted student attendance last year with his themed game night ideas. His new title is performance analyst, but his duties are essentially the same — except he won't be leading cheers from within the student section as he did as a fan late last season.
But the themed nights are back, starting with "Rainbow Warrior Paint Night" tonight. Students are encouraged to show up when the gates are opened at 6 p.m. A prize will be awarded to the best-painted student.
Saturday night against Cal State Northridge will be "Pajama Party Night." There's a funny Aaron Valdes video to promote it, with Valdes dunking in a tiger pajama suit. I believe it will be shown at the game tonight.
"I think every night, I go to bed thinking about different themes we could do," Smith said. "Really, there's a lot that require maybe a bit more planning than we have at this late stage, so I'll be saving some of those for next year."
Rebuilding the student momentum Smith helped create last season might not be an instant success, but his goal is to get it back to what it was for some of the bigger nights last season (Star Wars Night, Senior Night) by the end of the remaining seven home games. Other upcoming nights include Aloha Shirt Night and Superhero Night.
"I've looked at the student attendance numbers (this season)," Smith said. "They are down significantly from last year, but they are still higher than they were the year prior. I don't expect to have 675 students like we did for senior night last year on Thursday, but if I hope the men's basketball team and the Manoa Maniacs keep working at it, we can get back to that kind of figure by the end of this season."
Smith is on board at least through September. As a UH casual hire, he'll have to re-up annually, but he said he wants to be here at least the next few years.
Meanwhile, the Rainbow Wahine will look to keep their four-game winning streak going at LBSU today. Shawna Kuehu may be questionable for the game at The Pyramid with an illness, but the team expects to have freshman point guard Briana Harris back from her ankle injury, which is potentially a big addition if the Wahine can keep their chemistry intact. Harris has been out for the entirety of Big West play thus far.