Are we living in the Year of the Rhino?
It’s a fair question to ask after watching Hawaii forward Zigmars Raimo — “The Raimoceros,” as Kanoa Leahey dubbed him courtside — charge headlong into the fray and come out without so much as a scratch in the Rainbow Warriors’ 81-45 exhibition victory over Hawaii Pacific on Friday night.
The 6-foot-8 junior, a role player by reputation the last two years, looks poised for a breakout season.
Raimo beasted his way to 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. He was the most dominant player on the Stan Sheriff Center court. He collected a few easy inside buckets in the opening minutes. Then came the sequence of the game — the rugged Latvian stole it, flushed it over a defender on the other end, and took a charge on HPU’s next possession.
— HAWAII BASKETBALL (@HawaiiMBB) November 3, 2018
“You can probably jump higher at 230 than you can at 250,” said coach Eran Ganot, alluding to Raimo’s offseason weight cut. “So it was nice to see that highlight from him.”
“The dunk was big for us for sure,” said newcomer guard Eddie Stansberry, who came off the bench for 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, and showed the 1,980 fans in attendance a more polished all-around offensive game than his spot-up-shooter reputation indicated coming in. “The first group really set the tone. That dunk got us amped.”
Zigmars Raimo just stole the ball and yammed it over a defender on a fast break … then took a charge on the other end. Artie Wilson is speechless courtside.
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) November 3, 2018
Forward Jack Purchase had an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double and point guard Brocke Stepteau had 10 points and four assists. The team’s third senior, Sheriff Drammeh, sat with an apparent minor injury that UH didn’t want to inflame with the regular-season opener a week out. Freshman forward Owen Hulland also sat as he recovers from a preseason ailment.
But the story of the night was Raimo. He outworked HPU’s forwards for deep post position repeatedly, and his teammates found him … repeatedly. It was clear he’s built on his comfort zone he’s established playing with Purchase, Stepteau and Drew Buggs the last two years.
“It’s just all about my teammates. They found me in great spots,” Raimo said. “They found me under the basket. All I had to do was finish.
“I just want to help my team as much as I can. I’m a physical guy. I love battling down there. That’s how I’m going to do it this year.”
Raimo and Purchase also defended Jonathan Jansson, the PacWest preseason player of the year, effectively, limiting him to nine points and four turnovers.
Seven-foot freshmen Mate Colina and Dawson Carper had their minutes and moments as well.
UH, which shot 60 percent, built a 20-point first-half lead and revved up the engine once the Sharks chomped it down to 14 in the first five minutes of the second half. A 25-2 run pushed it to the final margin.
“Playing HPU tonight was a glimpse of the motor that we have,” Stansberry said.
UPDATE: Belated bonus quote: Here was HPU coach Darren Vorderbruegge on Raimo: “We knew exactly (who he was). He’s just a workhorse. He’s a battler and seems like a great kid. I walked in with him tonight, we got to the gym at the same time. I was giving him a hard time because he’s the kind of player you’d love to have on your team. Just a warrior. So we knew what to expect there, there was just nothing we could do about it.”