After a recent weightlifting session, Zigmars Raimo laid out exactly how he was trying to help Hawaii’s young triad of 7-footers become Division I-ready players.
Beat their okoles through sheer physicality.
“I’m trying to do my best, because yeah, at first Gibson (Johnson) and Mike (Thomas) was beating my ass in the practice,” Raimo, a 6-7 junior, said of his freshman and sophomore seasons. “So I’m trying to do the same thing to Mate (Colina) and Dawson (Carper) and Owen (Hulland) now. I think we’re in great shape and great place to be here.”
Raimo emerged late last season as a capable option up front while Thomas missed some action due to injury. He had a 6-5-5 game at UC Riverside and followed it up with a career-best 17 points in a win over Long Beach State, probably the most physical team in the league.
“He’s used that to propel him into one of our better offseasons,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “Other than when he got hurt in the summer for a stretch, when he was out two or three weeks, he’s had a tremendous offseason.”
Back home in Latvia, he lifted weights and ran every day. He returned about 20 pounds lighter while getting stronger. It was the most attention he’s ever paid to his body, because as a teenager he was naturally strong and could get away with a lack of quickness.
“I think I did a pretty good job there,” Raimo said. “Now it’s time to show what I can do and what our team can do. … Big guys are getting stronger, more physical, which I really love.”
He put up some big numbers in the HD League in July but was injured prior to the team’s foreign tour of Australia, causing him to miss those four games.
“If you haven’t seen him (since last year), it’s noticeable what he’s done to his body,” Ganot said. “It’s nice to be rewarded. Now hopefully he can keep it going.”
Raimo will likely receive significant minutes this year. His court time actually dropped as a sophomore with the return of Thomas, from 12.4 minutes per game as a freshman to 8.6. He and Jack Purchase are the frontcourt veterans now.
“I had a great opportunity to practice with Gibson and Mike,” Raimo said. “Mike, he’s a great player and Gibson was really smart. I learned a lot from those guys. Even if I didn’t play as much as I would like to, I learn a lot in practice from (them), a lot in open gyms, just playing with them 1-on-1 in free time. It was perfect experience for me. I can’t say how much I appreciate it.
“And right now, I’m trying to give to the young guys — Mate and Dawson and Owen and those guys who want to be as physical as Mike and Gibson was. I’m trying to give them that mind-set, what it should be.”
UH hosts Hawaii Pacific in an exhibition on Friday before opening the regular season Nov. 9 vs. Portland in the Outrigger Rainbow Classic.