By Brian McInnis
The most interesting aspect of Thursday's games at the College Summer League, besides another strong effort from Michael Thomas, was a matchup of two of the best big men in the league — former Hawaii players Bill Amis and Christian Standhardinger.
It turned into the kind of physical, defensive battle that's more common in an actual Division I game than what you'd expect in summer league.
Standhardinger has averaged over 40 points this summer, and was coming off a 49-point outing. He found the going much tougher inside this time.
It might have been Amis' greatest accomplishment since this.
"I played against Christian (when he was) in college," said Amis. "We were never teammates but we would go against each other. Work out almost every day. We were definitely familiar with each other's games, I think that helped me out a little bit. I knew Christian was going to be aggressive every play so I knew I needed to be ready tonight. I really just wanted to focus on defense. Shots didn't really fall for me or him tonight, so it was kind of an ugly game for both of us."
Amis punctuated the victory with a second half alley-oop flush from point guard John Lane.
Standhardinger, ever the competitor, had to offer his rebuttal afterward.
"Bill did a great job of playing against me 1-on-1 in his off time, and knowing on my moves and just adjusting in the game," Standhardinger said, loudly enough for the nearby Amis to pick up. "But I'm adjusting again. See, that's how you get better, 'cause, I play and then he's adjusting, and then I adjust and he's adjusting and I adjust. And then you've got the Cold War and it's perfect and everybody has great weapons."
If that's not classic Standhardinger, I don't know what is.
Amis chuckled when told about Standhardinger's streak of scoring binges.
"I mean, he's been playing really well in summer league so I just tried to do my part to shut him down once," Amis said. "We're a good team (Chosen Few). It wasn't just me guarding Christian. We all kind of did our own part. I had a lot of help coming. I love playing with these guys. I'm happy I got picked up with Coach (Dave) Paterson because we play a really good team game. A lot of the teams are a lot more 1-on-1 basketball."
Amis is coming off a down-and-up pro season in which he began with a team in Germany, was cut, then finished up the 2013-14 year for a club in Cyprus which made its league playoffs, Keravnos. That season was Amis' re-introduction to pro ball; the prior summer he had a full-time real estate job in Hawaii.
"(Last season), I mean, it was frustrating at times," he said. "I'd needed to get my confidence back after the beginning of the year, getting cut from Germany. They kind of had me playing at the 3 position, and I lost my confidence doing that. I'm not a 3-point shooter, I'm more of a post man so they had me shooting a lot of 3-pointers and it wasn't really my role. But once I got my confidence, I finished the year really strong (in Cyprus)."
He said he just signed a contract with Steaua Bucharest for the coming season.
"I'm really excited, they signed a couple other good big players, so it'll be a good chance to learn from veteran big men on the team. I'm looking forward to that," Amis said.
Standhardinger said he is still working with his agent to find a team in either Italy, Germany or Spain for his first action as a professional.
Amis is coming off his inaugural Bill Amis and Miah Ostrowski Basketball Skills Camp. There was a showing of 40 kids this year, and Amis said he's game for another camp (or two) next summer.
"The camp went great," he said. "There were a lot of familiar faces for me because I worked the Nike camp and the UH camp ... we had a lot of fun. I think the kids got a lot better and it was a good learning experience. I was worried it might not run smoothly but everything went really smooth. My parents were in town helping out, so that helped out as well.
"Miah did a great job with the kids. He did a lot of the agility drills and everything. We had Christian come out for a day, Jace (Tavita) was out for a day. Nick Milan (former UH team manager) was there for a day. We had a lot of familiar faces helping out."
Back to summer league. Now, it's hard to give Thomas too much credit in his latest outing, as he went against a severely undersized team in Wealth Strategy Partners. He was able to score easily inside most of the way for a 28-point night, and helped his National Fire Protection team to its second straight win, 105-103, after the "Hydrants" (my new nickname for NFP) dropped their first five games without him.
But it was some of the other things Thomas did — ranging out to challenge shooters, running the floor well, and generally displaying aggression on the court — that bodes well for his sophomore campaign.
Combined with his 32-point debut in the 2014 edition of the summer league, it's been some promising improvement out of Thomas (especially given he's not totally healed from the burns he suffered, and has to play wrapped on his hand and leg).
If he can keep it going through the summer league playoffs, it could be a nice springboard for him into preseason battles for playing time in the UH frontcourt.
Brocke Stepteau got the start for Grantco for the first time on Thursday, though he actually played less than his previous 19-point outing off the bench last time out.
Stepteau scored just eight this time. However, a couple of his baskets came on some pretty flashy finishes against much larger defenders.
"I've been small my whole life," said Stepteau, who will probably measure around 5-9 on the official UH roster for the coming season. "I've been playing against older dudes and bigger dudes, so I've learned how to take the angles and finish over the bigs. I still gotta go in there and try to make plays, so I learned how to finish through contact and all that."
Grantco (3-4) has lost three straight, which has been frustrating for the point guard from Dallas Jesuit High, since that unfortunately coincided with his arrival for the summer league.
"It's all about, when I'm on the court, trying to make plays and help my team win," he said. "I just don't think we're playing team basketball right now; I think that's why we lost the last three games. Someone gets it in isolation, and it's not really working for us. The guy has to move it. But I played all right. Didn't hit my jump shots today, though."
He didn't mention anyone specific, but Standhardinger gets the bulk of the touches for Grantco. The team's other primary scorer, ex-UH guard Geremy Robinson, hasn't been present of late.
"We can definitely turn it around. We have some good players on our team," Stepteau said. "We just gotta get together, play together as a team and I think we can turn it around easily."
And lastly, Sammis Reyes hasn't given up on Hawaii yet. On Saturday, he messaged "Yessir! Working on it still," when asked about acquiring an NCAA waiver to get to UH.
It's a positive that the big man with a penchant for dunking is still in play. But leaving it in the NCAA's hands right now has to make for some nervous moments at the Manoa Lower Campus.