By Brian McInnis
The emergence of Michael Thomas is fast becoming the best Hawaii-related storyline at this year's College Summer League.
He's getting it done on both ends, even in a loss for his National Fire Protection team on Saturday night.
"What?" you say. Michael Thomas, two-way force? After last season's relative no-show, that might give even the most diehard of supporters pause.
But Thomas kept his impressive showings going, scoring a game-high 34 points in National Fire's 108-99 defeat to Solar Universe. In three games, he's averaged 33 points, roughly double-figure rebounds and several blocks per game. He very nearly carried the "Hydrants" to 3-0 with him, after National Fire's 0-5 start without him.
"Frustrated we lost," Thomas said. "I mean, I don't want to lose any games. We showed heart, but we turned it over a lot. Just kinda disappointed we lost."
Thomas is in an ideal situation. He's on a National Fire Protection team in need of a go-to scorer. He's in a league without much in the way of size. And he's got something to prove.
Thomas realizes all of the above.
"It's playing to your strengths," he said. "Taking small guys down there (to the block) or guys that aren't as skilled down there. Going to work on offense and on defense blocking every shot you can, or affect every shot."
That last part is something that wasn't necessarily seen last season. But he's been swatting shots regularly in this setting, or at the very least contesting with his long wingspan on his 6-8 frame.
Weak-side shot blocking might be one of his niches for the Rainbow Warriors in the coming season, as he's probably the lightest big man on the UH roster, but should compete for decent minutes.
"Yeah I mean, it's pursuit of the ball," he said. "I feel like I can't really give any (easy) buckets."
Against Solar, he was often tangled up with a shorter but very physical defender in ex-HPU swingman Kawika Smith.
He did a pretty good job playing through the chippiness. He went 12-for-16 at the foul line. But a great bounce pass on a fast break to Chris Summers (27 points) summed up his overall impact.
"I think (I adjust) by making sure it stays a team game," Thomas said. "You get caught up in a mental battle with a person instead of a team, (you gotta) making sure your teammates are still involved in that challenge."
The normally mild-mannered Thomas even yelled out once or twice after physical plays and pounded the basketball hard.
It made for a pretty interesting matchup, though veteran Derrick Low had his best game of the summer season, 33 points, to carry Solar to the win. Third-year UH sophomore Dyrbe Enos added 15 points.
In the nightcap, Chosen Few outlasted Clark Hatch Fitness in another physical battle, 78-75, to improve to 6-1. Bill Amis and Co. held on after Isaac Fleming's team had a couple chances to tie it up in the final seconds.
Fleming wasn't able to replicate his 33-point outing from Tuesday, finishing with 11. The UH newcomer drove the ball right at Amis a couple times and was turned away.
The one Rainbow Warrior who's on the island but hasn't played in the summer league, Roderick Bobbitt, was on hand to watch both Saturday games with UH teammate Brocke Stepteau, whose team had a bye.
Bobbitt is still recovering from the broken left (non-shooting) arm he suffered in the spring for Indian Hills CC in the junior college playoffs, and is not yet cleared for contact basketball.
The break was pretty severe, and in an unusual spot for a broken arm. He's got a long surgery scar running the distance of his bicep.
"I have an X-ray Oct. 1, so I'll go see how it's healed," Bobbitt said. "I can't go full contact for another month or so. I've just been in the weight room, strengthening it up. ... before I left Indian Hills, my trainer gave me some stretches and things to do to start getting it moving correctly and everything. I had it in a sling for so long that it wouldn't drop and bend all the way. Now I'm just strengthening it up with the weight coach and getting it in with the trainers here."
In the meantime, he's been attending summer classes and taking in the island lifestyle. Saturday was the second night he'd watched the summer league.
"It's been different," he said. "I'm adjusting. But for the most part, I like it. It's been cool. It's been cool, I've started classes, so I'm trying to get the feel for everything so far.
"Only thing different is the team's not here. The guys are still at home. When they get here, that'll bring everybody together and we can start to move forward. I feel like I'm good with everything."
Bobbitt was an all-around contributor at Indian Hills (15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists) and is expected to have a similar role as a 6-3 combo guard for the 'Bows.
Bobbitt offered up a shot in the arm, so to speak, for anyone doubting he'll be ready for the start of the 2014-15 season.
"I'm fine. I know I'm going to be ready for the season," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind. Just gotta get my arm back stronger."