Hawaii men’s basketball: Tournament MVPs Carl English, Aaron Valdes reacquaint themselves with islands

Former Hawaii basketball great Carl English spoke to UH coach Eran Ganot and the rest of the Rainbow Warriors staff in the coaches offices on Friday. / Photo by Brian McInnis

Carl English never got a senior season with the Hawaii basketball team.

Saturday night will be the next-best thing for the recently retired Canadian great, as he will be the honorary game captain when the Rainbow Warriors take on UC Riverside on senior night at the Stan Sheriff Center.

English, like Thursday’s game captain Aaron Valdes, is a former conference tournament most valuable player who made a notable return to the islands this week. While Valdes has made periodic trips back since going pro in 2016, English hadn’t been back since 2005.

In other words, a long time.

English, who combined a sweet-shooting stroke with underrated athleticism, memorably left school a year early for a shot at the NBA. He got a cup of coffee in the Association, then went overseas for the bulk of his 17-year pro career before returning to his home country to play out his twilight with the St. John’s Edge in his native Newfoundland. The Edge recently retired his number.

There were parallels between him reacquainting himself with his homeland and his long-awaited journey back to the islands this week.

“It was pretty special. I left Newfoundland a long time,” English said Friday after acclimating himself to the new-look Hawaii coaches’ offices. “In what, Grade 11, I left. I was 16 years old. I traveled the world and chased the dream forever. … It was pretty cool to go back and immerse myself in the culture there, immerse myself with the kids.”

He was especially reflective of his time in Hawaii, which spanned 1999 to 2003, including a redshirt season. He memorably emerged late in the 2000-01 season and went on a huge tear in the WAC tournament to lead UH to its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1994. He went on to become an All-WAC first-teamer and is seventh in UH scoring at 1,259 points.

“The people made me feel at home,” he said of what he took with him from the islands. “Made me feel like one of theirs.”

English keeps in regular touch with old UH teammates including Ryne Holliday, Phil Martin and Predrag Savovic. “We’ll see a few more guys tomorrow … some of the coaches who are still here will come out,” he said of senior night. “I ran into a bunch of UH guys along the way and played against them. It’s kind of like a fraternity that’s out there. … You get that sense of pride and once you see someone from there you automatically talk to ’em and you kind of have a bond because you played at the same university. It’s pretty special.”

Valdes, the explosive 2016 Big West tournament MVP from Whittier, Calif., who helped UH get its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, got a special seat near the end of the UH bench for the Rainbows’ 70-59 win over Cal State Fullerton on Thursday.

He was all smiles afterward, and not just because he just won his second pro championship in three years with Soles de Mexicali in Mexico. (He’d also gotten a haircut just before heading out to the islands.)

“It was awesome, being on the bench with the guys, seeing how they interact with each other, seeing how close they are as a group. It was really cool,” said Valdes, who like English went pro prior to his senior season. “It reminds me of how we were back then on our team. Just to be back in the Stan Sheriff was amazing. I missed it a lot. It’s a whole different feeling when you come in this gym. I was happy to be back.”

Valdes, a former water polo standout, walked on under Gib Arnold and eventually earned a scholarship after redshirting a year. He went on to become an All-Big West second-teamer and is No. 18 in all-time scoring at 975 points.

Both players were amazed by the overhaul of Gym II.

“To see all the work they’ve put in to help the program become bigger and better, it was really cool,” Valdes said. “(UH coach Eran) Ganot preaching the family mentality and the alumni is really cool. So, following it this whole year is a lot of fun, to see this group, see how they’re growing and how they’re becoming one team. Be ready for the Big West tournament, should be fun.”

As for English’s book, he said it sold 10,000 copies in three weeks back home.

In the book, English discusses his tragic childhood. His parents died in a fire when he was 5 years old.

“The big part for me is getting it across the rest of Canada and I’d like to get it out here in Hawaii,” English said. “There’s a lot of chapters and stuff on it; it’s not only a basketball story, it’s a story of perseverance and determination, just fighting and a lot of tragedy. But the book was really difficult to do. Just based on a sense of, when I dealt with any adversity, I just kicked it to the side and worked harder. So the book, I had to face that head on and tell what meant.”

Carl English brought several copies of his book with him.


  1. Auntyz February 28, 2020 10:09 pm

    Carl did not leave school he graduated!

  2. cappie the $2000 dog February 28, 2020 10:44 pm

    Carl English had one year of eligibility left. He could have spent a semester at grad school. It’s a toss-up as to what made me sadder. The 28-4 Wahine basketball team being left out of the NCAAs after the 1993-1994 season or not hearing English’s name being called on NBA Draft day. So clutch against Tulsa in the WAC Tournament Championship game. I have no doubt in my mind that the team would have made it three in a row.

  3. sports for fun February 29, 2020 12:06 am

    Hey Brian, where can we purchase that black Hawaii baseball jersey that Valdez has on? It looks really good!!

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