As I reflect on the news of the death of Mike McIntyre in a horrific traffic accident, I remember him as one of the most underrated athletes I’ve been around in 30-plus years of covering University of Hawaii sports.
The 2000-01 UH men’s basketball team had players from all over the world. Coach Riley Wallace was ahead of most in coming to realize how players from Europe and other parts of the globe had vastly improved, and he had an assistant in Scott Rigot who was good at finding some of the better ones.
Predrag Savovic, Nerijus Puida and Mindaugas Burneika were just a few of the Euros that Wallace and Rigot had convinced to come to Hawaii. Then there were freshmen Carl English and Phil Martin, from Newfoundland and Toronto, and Haim Shimonovich, an Israeli center. A year later Tony Akpan arrived; he’d taken a circuitous route to end up in Manoa from Africa.
There were even a few Americans on that 00-01 team, including starting post, Troy Ostler, an excellent rebounder and shooter. There were a couple of point guards Wallace had brought in that offseason to fill the hole left by the graduation of Johnny White. Ricky Terrell and Jeep Hilton were talkative sorts from Los Angeles and New York.
The leading scorer was the confident and charismatic Savovic (Perhaps you remember the T-shirts inspired by his shoulder-shrugging explanation of his superbness in hoops: “I am Savo.”)
English and Martin were already productive and sometimes spectacular as freshmen. Puida was the glue player, a 6-foot-5 small forward who mostly bridged the guards and the posts, but could score when necessary. But on this team, he didn’t need to often. Even if Savo and English were off target and in the rare game were Ostler was shut down, Burneika could spark the attack from outside or close to the basket.
Then there was McIntyre. He possessed a rare and valuable skill set; he was an excellent 3-point shooter, a top-notch on-ball defender and a guy who would make few mistakes when you put him at point guard — in a nutshell, a very valuable third guard. While Burneika usually came off the bench to spark the frontcourt, McIntyre did the same for the backcourt.
But late in that 2000-01 season, due to injuries and other misfortunes, McIntyre was forced into the role he coveted: that of starter. And UH won seven of its nine games down the stretch (one of the losses was the NCAA tourney first-round game to Syracuse).
One of McIntyre’s best games was when the Rainbows beat Tulsa 78-72 (overtime) — at Tulsa — in the WAC tournament championship game. It was the ‘Bows’ ticket to The Dance … they were a .500 ballclub before Shimonovich’s arrival late in the season to plug the middle; they’d have been 16-14 with a loss to Tulsa and no way would they be getting an at-large bid.
Anyway, McIntyre was tremendous in this game, scoring 19 points on five of eight makes from 3-point land and a perfect 4-for-4 at the line. He was also perfect taking care of the ball, with a team-high five assists to go with no turnovers.
But as was so often the case, McIntyre was overshadowed. This time it was English, who scored 25 points including the clutch shots at the end of regulation and in overtime. When the all-tournament team was announced, it was English (MVP), Savo and three Tulsa players. I know for sure that McIntyre had gotten at least one vote, mine. If not for McIntyre, UH wouldn’t be on the way to the NCAA Tournament.
I got to know McIntyre a bit as the team moved on to Dayton, Ohio, from Tulsa for its first-round game against Syracuse. But just a bit. Though Mike was intelligent and polite, he didn’t share a lot about his background, or himself away from the basketball court. It’s telling that when you look at the clips there are lots of stories mentioning things McIntyre did on the court, but very few feature stories about him as a person — and this is from an era when there were two daily newspapers covering the program extensively, and a community with a voracious appetite for human interest stories about the athletes representing the state.
The thing I remember most from those weeks on the road at Tulsa and Dayton is that he often seemed vaguely unhappy or uncomfortable about something or other (but not to the point of complaining) at a time when you’d think he’d have been elated about what he and the rest of the ‘Bows had accomplished and what lay ahead. For Mike McIntyre and his underclassman teammates, that would be TWO appearances in the NCAA Tournament, as they would return the next season (where they’d lose to Xavier in the first round).
It’s sad that Mike McIntyre is remembered by many only now because of his death at age 38 and that he is described in the accident report as “transient,” which is basically another word for “homeless.”
I’ll remember his unique personality on a team full of them — but also as a player who made vast on-court contributions that were needed for the ‘Bows to get to the NCAA Tournament in both his junior and senior years.