By Brian McInnis
Well, that's more like it.
Hawaii basketball's representatives in the College Summer League finally had an honest-to-goodness explosive night as a collective group on Tuesday.
First, Michael Thomas reintroduced himself to local hoops fans in a big way. Thomas played like a new man in his debut for National Fire Protection — not the seldom-used freshman people only caught glimpses of last season.
Thomas scored 32 points in National Fire's first win of the season, 119-109 over Grantco Pacific. He blocked about five shots, including Christian Standhardinger on two consecutive attacks at the rim, something I don't remember ever happening in practices last season. Standhardinger still got his numbers and then some (49 points), but Thomas was the difference in the ledger on this night.
"It felt great to finally get some run," Thomas said. "Just going out and competing. I think that was a big thing with me and Christian last year. Always competing, always going at it. It made me a better player. And so I just wanted to show it to him and show it to the rest of the fans out here."
It all came perhaps as a bit of a surprise, given his aforementioned quiet first campaign at UH and his absence from previous summer league games because of some two-pronged misfortune: getting sick last week, then burning himself while cooking a meal later that same night.
He said his stove malfunctioned while cooking fish in a skillet. He burned both his hands and dropped the skillet, which gave him some third-degree burns on his calf. His roommate took him to the ER.
"Quite a week," Thomas said.
He seems close to fully recovered, as long as he keeps his leg bandaged. At one point during play, he wrapped his hand/wrist area as well.
Sprinkled in to his game Tuesday night were a couple of fast-break dunks and 3-pointers. He showed off a nice fadeaway shot, as well. The 6-foot-8 Thomas is still on the gangly side, but he appears to have put some muscle on his frame.
"I want to come into the season ready to go," he said. "Getting my body completely right, getting it healthy, stronger, faster. I think, being more athletic. Being an athlete. A lot of times (last season) I shied back and just stayed on the ground, which I shouldn't have, being an athlete. I think getting my shot right, playing defense, guarding, getting low, everything."
Last season, the El Camino Real High graduate was in for an average of 5.6 minutes in 20 games, never scoring more than four in a single game. That clearly didn't sit well to him.
He went through a workout regimen back in Los Angeles with a high school friend for a good month and a half once the spring semester ended.
"We lifted twice a day and got in the gym for at least four hours a day," Thomas said. "It was good. Absolutely (I saw results)."
On his first night of summer league action in 2014, so did everyone else in the Manoa Park gym.
As a pleasant second act, freshman Isaac Fleming worked his way into a good game for Clark Hatch Fitness after a sluggish start against Solar Universe. His jumper was off early, and he had two separate 0-for-2 trips to the foul line that had him shaking his head.
But Fleming stuck with it, showing some of the same determination that had him playing two days after his scary stinger injury last Thursday. He finished with 33 points, and hit the go-ahead free throw with four seconds left as Clark Hatch prevailed 68-66. Each point was needed as Clark Hatch (the "Buffs," as I'm nicknaming them as of now) were missing Leon Ballard, and their other regulars were having off nights.
Fleming himself had a subpar game last time out on Saturday, as he struggled to seven points.
"Started off a little slow," Fleming said, possibly referring to his overall summer performances and Tuesday's game at the same time. "I knew coming in, my coaching staff at UH know that I can shoot, I can shoot off the dribble, do a lot of things. It was just, I had to come out and prove it to everybody because I kind of know for the first couple weeks people probably thought I could (only) drive it. They didn't know if I could shoot or anything. So, game by game my whole game is starting to come out and starting to show that I can pretty much do it all."
He pretty much threw his team on his back down the stretch. The 6-foot-3 combo guard crashed for rebounds and started fast breaks himself.
"I learned from my AAU coach ... whenever I'm in the game, you can shoot, so don't stop," he said. "Don't let one miss stop you from finding your rhythm. And once you find it, keep going at it."
Fleming clutched his right shoulder a couple of times after contact, some slightly concerning moments serving as echoes from his brick wall pick mishap last Thursday. But he brushed those moments off.
"I was feeling good," Fleming said. "It was just like when I got hit too hard it started tingling again. It's just one of those annoying pains. But it's not going to stop me. I'm a hard worker."
Fleming said he could have gotten an MRI on Monday if he felt he needed one, but he told the UH trainers he was feeling fine.
In a reserve role, freshman point guard Brocke Stepteau had a productive night — 19 points for Grantco Pacific. He was the second-leading scorer on his team, to (who else?) Standhardinger, who may have broken the summer league's record for fouls drawn in a game, if it kept official records. The 49 by the ex-'Bow of recent vintage stands as a high for any player in the summer league's 2014 edition.
Third-year sophomore Dyrbe Enos scored seven points in a losing effort for severely undermanned Solar Universe.
Warren Oishi, who served as a team manager for the 'Bows last season, hasn't given up on becoming a full-fledged player. You might remember that in this space around this time last year, I wrote about how he came up a little short of his goal of walking on. But Oishi has played well in spots for National Fire in the summer league, showing off some deadly range from well beyond the arc. He scored five points on Tuesday, but made some nice all-around plays as well.
After the game, he said he will be trying out for Gib Arnold again. There's a fair number of walk-ons already, but with a year of familiarity with the coaching staff, he might have a shot.
UH appears to be trying to pick up an additional big man. Verbalcommits.com reported that UH has offered Quadree Smith, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Potomac (Md.) High. Smith, listed between 280 and 250 pounds on various sites, has some serious bulk down low.
Keep your eye on this one. It might be one of UH's only chances to add some size this late on the calendar. If Sammis Reyes doesn't make it into school, the already shaky frontcourt situation becomes all the more dire and the need for a late pickup becomes essential.