Rainbow Warriors basketball: Critical juncture

Stefan Jankovic, Roderick Bobbitt and Aaron Valdes and coach Eran Ganot posed with the trophy after winning the Big West championship in 2016.

Kick back, relax and take in one of the best sports days of the year today. Heck, do it again tomorrow, and through the rest of March as the madness unfolds.

When you do, consider this: It’s already been three years since the Hawaii men’s basketball team enjoyed its finest hour on the national stage, upsetting No. 4 seed California in the NCAA Tournament first round in Spokane, Wash.

Roderick Bobbitt, Stefan Jankovic and Aaron Valdes, and a host of valuable role players, carried the day against a reeling Bears team. UH bowed out in respectable fashion against fifth-seeded Maryland in the second round.

It was a signature moment in program history.

But now, after three straight one-and-done appearances in the Big West tournament — and two consecutive, agonizing last-second defeats — it’s clear the Rainbow Warriors need some help in the form of a significant talent infusion.

Coach Eran Ganot and his staff have proven they can bring in All-Big West-level talent. Look at what Noah Allen, an undervalued prospect riding the UCLA bench, did in his one season in Manoa.

But now, with four- and five-year players (including redshirt years) departing like Jack Purchase, Brocke Stepteau and Sheriff Drammeh, UH needs more help like that, and fast.

Consider this another huge juncture for the program.

UH has two scholarships available going into the spring signing period (April 17 to May 15) besides the one going to Kahuku graduate Jessiya Villa coming off a two-year church mission. They must count if the Rainbow Warriors wish to improve upon their 8-8, 8-8 and 9-7 records in the Big West the last three years.

Eddie Stansberry was a solid get out of junior college last spring, supplying upward of 11 points per game while contributing to the team’s single-season record for made 3-pointers. Zigmars Raimo was one of the most improved players in the conference — if not the most improved — and tied for team-high scoring honors with Purchase at 11.5 per game.

As it stands, those two, and point guard Drew Buggs — an improving playmaker by the year — are the program’s standard bearers going into next season. Wing Samuta Avea stepped into a larger role as a sophomore and strung together some highlights. And there’s the trio of young 7-footers that took turns making appearances this season, with a handful of promising moments.

But if UH wants to get back to the right kind of madness in March, that’s not nearly enough.

These next few weeks could speak volumes about the direction of the program, one way or the other.


  1. iGrokSpock March 21, 2019 3:09 pm

    Coach Ganot and his staff are surely attacking the recruiting trail. Just hope that the recruiting trail is not hitting back.

  2. Hoosier March 21, 2019 4:27 pm

    Not great shape when your top scorer averages 11. Need two impact players with at least one go to guy who can create his own shot. Returning players need to become gym rats and also hit the weight room. Fingers crossed but we will see

  3. roygbivs March 22, 2019 3:00 am

    Those players (pictured) are all Gib’s recruits, and talented players WINS ballgames.

    Not hard to figure that out, so, EG needs to recruit much more better talent, dynamic players to turn around this middle of the league finish.

  4. cappie the dog March 22, 2019 3:55 am

    I’m just going to take a wild guess. The second year of Gib Arnold’s tenure, all four(or was it three?) of his top recruits not only didn’t suit up for Hawaii, they didn’t suit up anywhere. This was the beginning of the friction between the head coach and the compliance officer, I conjecture.

  5. Casual Observer March 22, 2019 10:50 am

    Not too sure why this is a “critical Juncture” in men’s BB. Seems obvious that the better talent you have the more you will win so coaches, for their sake and the programs, are always seeking the best players…like all the other programs. Will UH ever land a player like Zion Williams or Barrett ( of Duke)? Unlikely. As long as our talent is competitive, then rely on the outstanding coaching to raise the wins and bring out the best in our players.

  6. Coach Cannot March 22, 2019 12:18 pm

    He had FOUR+ years to recruit. How long more does he need to produce??! How long we goin’ give him? If you subtract his first year’s record with Gib’s recruits (pictured, why?) then in the past three seasons his record was 49-42 with a whopping 54% win percentage, which includes all the UH Hilo, Chaminade and Directional State University wins in there to fluff it up.

    How long we goin give Norm Chow? I mean Coach Ganot?

  7. Matt March 22, 2019 7:11 pm


    I see what you’re saying, but it’s hard to land a 4 or 5-star recruit when they’re going to the powerhouse schools to play. But where this team is lacking is of these:

    A go-to player (Or 2)
    Perimeter/3-point shooting
    Perimeter defense

    Even with Eddie Stansberry, it’s still not enough for the 3-point shooting because losing Purchase leaves a blank canvas for shooting depth, and having to build their 3 7’0″ players will be pretty much a big factor in the long run. But with the way things are going, CSUN, UCI and UCSB will pretty much be the big bad bullies of the BWC next year. If this program is to land a good transfer, hopefully somebody that made their team to the NCAA will join us because it could be a big shot in the arm for this program to make an impact and make some noise for the long haul.

  8. cappie the dog March 24, 2019 8:37 pm

    Tubby Smith won a title with Rick Pitino’s players. I remember Pitino not being very gracious on live television. He said: “They’re my players.”

    Coach Ganot won with Gib Arnold’s guys. That is an objective fact. But I’ve been waiting my whole life to see Hawaii win a first round game, and it’s Ganot who got the W, not Arnold. Ganot should get some credit for leading the team to the tournament with one player down. I question the temporary demotion of Brocke Stepteau to sixth man. UNLV was big, but they looked a little slow. Brocke would find a way. The demotion coincided with his plummeting three-point-field goal percentage.

    But, yes, even me, got a little down on him when they got manhandled by Cal Poly on the road. And for two straight seasons, the team did not take advantage of long home stands.

    What is my point? I don’t know. You can’t tell that five minutes elapsed between sentences, but I took five minutes to figure out what my point is. My point is that when Riley Wallace “retired”, the program went halfway into the abyss, not all the way like with the football team, but Ed Harris was still in danger of drowning.

    I greatly appreciate the job that Gib Arnold did, but the fact remains the same; he put the program on probation. I would like the team to win 24+ games, but conversely, I’m afraid of 24+ losses. Hopefully, Ganot will find that one recruit who’ll break the program out of this holding pattern of mediocrity.

    Peace. This is not meant to incite anybody.

  9. hilorain March 25, 2019 9:11 am

    The years of being on probation definitely hurt recruiting the first couple of years. My guess is some coaches may still use it to downgrade UH.

  10. Hoosier March 28, 2019 8:39 am

    Leland Green transferring per Verbal Commits.

  11. cappie the dog March 31, 2019 1:14 pm

    Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke. Done. Clears the path for Gonzaga. Oh, wait. This was the breakthrough year for the mid-major. UNLV does not count.

  12. Shaka Bro April 3, 2019 9:30 am

    Yes, the coach did win with Gib’s recruits and Benji could’ve done it as well. The entire situation with Gib could’ve and should’ve been avoided. We had someone in compliance who did not see eye to eye with Gib that started things. Benji, Benji, Benji!

    After the NCAA appearance, what happened to most of the players on the team? They left the program! Why? Was this due to the NCAA sanctions that would be placed on the program? Or because of the coaching? Or was it due to the opportunity to turn pro and play abroad knowing that the program wasn’t going to go anywhere? IMO, it was a combination of all things.

    After the end of each season, this program has had player departures. Is this common for all programs or just for programs where the players have issue with the coaching?

  13. Hoosier April 5, 2019 4:11 pm

    Where is Benji now? Players want to play and you can see that by the number of transfers across the country. You are assuming players here are leaving because of coaching. Not sure that is true. Bottom line for Ganot is to get some impact players now and not two years from now. Time to move to the front of the class. UH and fans deserve better than string of 8-8 and 16-13 seasons.

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