The question of what happens when Drew Buggs needs a breather was apparently answered on Wednesday night.
Hawaii will put the ball in the hands of true freshman Justin Webster.
It was baptism by fire for Webster, the Rainbow Warriors’ new secondary point guard, in an 83-66 preseason exhibition victory over Division II neighbor Chaminade at the Stan Sheriff Center.
The Silverswords were a small but tenacious outfit that pressed relentlessly for much of the game — meaning ball control was as important as the considerable size advantage the Rainbow Warriors enjoyed. The ‘Swords, recently picked to finish third in the PacWest Conference, tried to trap Buggs and Webster right underneath the UH basket every chance they could.
UH handled that fairly well overall, finishing with just 10 turnovers (correction: UH had 14 turnovers). But the night’s overall execution left a lot to be desired for Eran Ganot. UH shot 43.8 percent from the field, 20 percent from 3 and 56.5 percent from the line, leaving the fifth-year coach shaking his head and grateful there’s still another week to prepare for the Nov. 8 official opener against Florida A&M in the Outrigger Rainbow Classic.
Two of the team’s veterans, Zigmars Raimo and Samuta Avea, combined for 37 points in the win. UH was able to lean on its huge size advantage to snare 22 offensive rebounds, leading to a 27-3 advantage in second-chance points. Dawson Carper snared 14 rebounds. Raimo had eight offensively.
Webster, in his 17 minutes playing either the 1 when Buggs went to the bench or the 2 alongside him, was 2-for-7 from the field (0-5 on 3s), with four points, two assists, two rebounds, one turnover and a steal.
“He’s got a great mental fortitude about him. He comes back the next play with a great attitude about him, you don’t see him hanging his head,” Ganot said. “I don’t think he played (as) well as he would like to have played, he didn’t shoot it well. He’s a good shooter. But I feel like this is experience he needs to go through, that all guys before him went through.”
Avea and Raimo voiced support in the freshman Webster, as well:
Samuta Avea and Zigmars Raimo talk about true freshman Justin Webster, who played 17 minutes (much of it at point guard) in his unofficial #HawaiiMBB debut against Chaminade. pic.twitter.com/Capz6Fq6ZB
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) October 31, 2019
Buggs was away from the team for a couple weeks of the preseason because of the tragic death of his mother, only resuming practices earlier this week.
While he was gone, it was senior Eddie Stansberry and three true freshmen — Webster, Jessiya Villa and Kameron Ng — taking reps at point guard.
It was a ripple effect of Ahmed Ali leaving the team due to a health condition midway through the preseason. Ali was expected to shoulder much of the playmaking duties this season, a successor of sorts for the graduated Brocke Stepteau.
The 6-foot-3 Webster, who came in as a shooting guard out of the Hargrave Military Academy (Va.), showed enough to earn the responsibility of running the offense for stretches by the time Buggs returned.
“Drew will tell you too … he wasn’t a point guard coming in. A pure point,” Ganot said. “And he’s become a guy who’s really good there, even though he didn’t play as well as he would’ve liked to today (11 points, 5-16 shooting, six assists, two turnovers, two steals). So there’s a learning curve there. He’s more of a traditional 2 guard. But I think with the way you want to play now too, it’s good to have two guys out there, even your 2 guard now, that has a mentality like a point guard, that can make good decisions, that can handle presses, that can play in ball screens.
“Guys are being thrown in to fires.”
It got dicey at times Wednesday night, as Chaminade came out with moxie and captured a lead at a few points. The Silverswords trailed just 37-35 at halftime and 52-51 with 14 minutes left. But Raimo, Buggs and sophomore Justin Hemsley helped the ‘Bows pull away for good and Ganot was able to empty his bench with a minute left.