Hawaii men’s basketball: Current Rainbow Warriors make their picks for virtual Final Four winners

Hawaii guard Justin Hemsley drove to the basket over UC Davis guard Elijah Pepper on Jan. 25 at the Stan Sheriff Center. He was one of two Rainbow Warriors to make picks in the "100th Season Best-Team Bracket" final four this week. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

I asked some current University of Hawaii basketball players who they like to go all the way as we’ve arrived at the Final Four of our UH men’s hoops online tournament.

Justin Hemsley and Zoar Nedd are also members of the sports media class I taught at Crawford Hall before we were forced into cyberspace. Sitting between them at a Rainbow Wahine game a few weeks back, I learned that in addition to possessing physical gifts both are astute students of the game.

They pick the 2015-16 squad as the one that should win this mythical tourney we started two weeks ago with 16 teams. Before accusing them of bias toward their fellow millennials and their own coach (Eran Ganot), let’s remember that the ’16s are the only UH team to win an NCAA Tournament game. Hemsley and Nedd are on solid ground when they choose them to emerge as the best in the 100 years of UH men’s basketball. But as we will see later, there is room for debate.

The winners of the semifinals on Saturday and finals on Monday will be determined by votes on Twitter. Voting begins at 9 a.m. both days.

We don’t use chalk in classrooms anymore (especially not in virtual classrooms), but it seems Hemsley and Nedd — along with the voters so far — have inhaled plenty of its dust. The two wing players both believe that when it’s said and done, all 15 “games” will have been won by the higher seed.

And, in case you were wondering, in the games involving the 1971-72 team, the first half will be played by their rules — no 3-pointers, no shot clock and no dunking. After halftime, modern-day rules apply. You’d like to see a buzzer-beating bomb count for three at the end of the game rather than going into halftime, right?



In my opinion, the final matchup for the all-time best UH basketball teams should be between the Fab Five of 1971-72 and the 2015-16 NCAA Tournament team. It’s hard for me to get a clear vision of how the Fab Five played basketball because it has been almost 50 years since that group reigned on this island, and there’s no footage from those times. But I do know basketball was played a lot differently back then, and the game always has and always will be a lot more than just the numbers. After many conversations with Bob Nash, one thing I remember him saying very vividly is, “We had no idea about the other team we were playing. We just rolled the ball out there and started hooping.”

As for the 2015-16 team, I was able to see first-hand how they played individually and as a team. With that being said, I think the UH basketball all-time best team is the 2015-16 Rainbow Warriors because I know for certain that they didn’t just go out there and hoop. They had a tactical scheme and strategy to their games, on top of unselfish and hard-working players. The Fab Five seems to me to be a bunch of East Coast hoopers who were more athletic than everyone they played. Athleticism can only take you so far.
Justin Hemsley


Zoar Nedd (20) looked to the basket as Samford’s Josh Sharkey (3) went for the ball against Samford in the 2019-20 season. Star-Advertiser file photo by Cindy Ellen Russell, Star-Advertiser


In one semifinal, the most experienced and battle-tested team in this tournament will prevail to win the matchup of 2015-16 and 1997-98. The backcourt duo of Quincy Smith and Roderick Bobbitt will take over the game on the defensive end, holding Anthony Carter and Alika Smith well below their season averages. Stefan Jankovic will come in clutch down the stretch hitting big shots to give the ’16 Rainbow Warriors the win 72-65.

The “Fabulous Five’s” electrifying style of play will prove to be too much for the 2001-02 Rainbow Warriors to handle, proving once again that you don’t need a 3-point shot to win big games in the tournament if you have a force like Nash controlling the paint. The 1971-72 Rainbows win in a high-scoring affair 81-76.

It’s fitting that arguably the two best teams from Manoa over the last 100 years will meet up in the championship as new school and old school clash. The 2015-16 Rainbow Warriors defense will propel them throughout this game, as it did throughout their real life record-breaking season.

Playing with today’s rules in the second half, Bobbitt and crew will force the Fabulous Five into multiple shot-clock violations. Nash will get into foul trouble early as he is called for charges and Aaron Valdes will draw an over-the-back call against Nash to foul him out with 2 minutes to go in the game. Clutch free throws down the stretch by Smith will put the younger ‘Bows up by three with two seconds left. Jerome Freeman will try a desperation three but it falls short and the 2015-16 team will win in a defensive battle 57-54.
Zoar Nedd



Of course I have to go against the grain here, right? Plus, I need to show respect for my elders, and the Fabulous Five team is the only of the four remaining with a roster of players who are older than I am.

Even though it didn’t play with a shot clock and 3-point line, Red Rocha’s team would have been even better with those rules. The ’72 squad, with the Fab Five all seniors, easily runs past the highly skilled but slower 2001-02 team, 84-67. The internationals are hurt by Predrag Savovic’s four first-half bombs counting for just two points each.

In the other semifinal, the “Dynamic Duo” team led by guards Carter and Smith takes down the ’16 squad in a 76-65 upset. Ganot’s team is hampered by the absence of Jankovic, who breaks his left hand in practice a few days before the game. Freshman Sheriff Drammeh helps Quincy Smith and Bobbitt keep Carter scoreless in the first half, but AC explodes after the break and finishes with 19 points, and Alika Smith is game-high with 22.

Everyone talks about Nash’s power and attitude as an inside force. But he also had a mean stroke to go with his mean streak, and his outside shooting was dangerous. If there was a 3-point arc, Nash would’ve launched many a successful trey in his day (like his son, Bobby, did as a ‘Bow 30 years later). In the virtual championship against the 1997-98 team, Carter and Smith outscore Freeman and Dwight Holiday, but they have to work very hard for their points, and on defense. And there’s no one behind them to handle Nash down low, or outside. Erin “Helicopter” Galloway gets a block on him in the opening minutes, but all that does is fire up Nash, who honors the year of this tournament with a 20-20 game … 20 points and 20 rebounds. There’s also no one to stop the low-key Davis inside, and he’s team-high with 23 points as the FF wins 75-68. Yet all anyone can talk about is Rocha’s controversial but brilliant psychological ploy of anointing his opponents’ nemesis, Fresno State’s Chris Herren, as his team’s honorary captain, giving him a seat on the bench. The ’98 coach, Riley Wallace, draws a technical foul for throwing his sports coat at Herren.

Hey, if Rocha can be fired at the team banquet, anything goes.
Dave Reardon