Josh Ko stoked to face UH

A dream first season at Pittsburgh has kept right on going and blended into a second one for Joshua Ko.

The 2013 Honolulu Star-Advertiser Player of the Year and state champion out of Kalaheo High opened eyes when he walked on at ACC contender Pitt last fall, at the invitation of head coach Jamie Dixon — a former Hawaii assistant. Ko became the first player from the state of Hawaii to land on a Pitt basketball roster.

Joshua Ko (Pittsburgh athletics photo)
Joshua Ko (Pittsburgh athletics photo)

Now the guard will get a chance to play his hometown’s college team, the Rainbow Warriors, on Nov. 21 at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku, Maui.

“It’s really going to be fun, to be honest with you,” Ko said recently. “I get to play against the team I grew up watching, the University of Hawaii. Just to play against them will be fun and interesting.”

Dixon worked out the game with UH coach Gib Arnold in conjunction with the Panthers’ appearance at the EA Sports Maui Invitational a few days later. Interestingly, Pitt drew host Chaminade as its first-round game in the tournament, giving it two games against local opposition in a four-day span.

“That’s going to be fun, too,” Ko said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

He’s expecting a sizable amount of friends and family to make the jaunt between islands and boost the Panthers’ crowd.

Ko played a handful of minutes in 10 games last season for Pitt, which went 26-10 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament round of 32 before losing to Florida. He scored three points in an ACC tournament win over Wake Forest.

“I felt (my game) grew a lot, to be honest with you,” the 6-foot-1, 150-pound Ko said. “The speed … overall is way faster. I mean, way faster, and you’re playing against guys who are pretty much almost McDonald’s All-Americans, Top 100 ESPN guys. It’s an unreal experience, to be honest. It was just fun learning all the stuff they taught me while I was up there.”

Dixon’s Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament in nine of 10 seasons since being named their head coach. He’s compiled a 262-86 record and set a number of school and other records along the way.

“He’s an unbelievable coach because he knows so much,” Ko said. “You can clearly see that he studies the game. I mean, his knowledge is just vast about the game of basketball. It’s great to be learning from him, great to be coached by him. And I’m just learning a lot by him.”

If the NCAA appearance weren’t enough, Ko recently returned from Pitt’s international trip to the Bahamas this summer — his first trip out of the United States — where he saw light action in exhibition games. Upon flying back to Pennsylvania, that’s when he found out about the 2014-15 schedule … and one notable area of it.

“K-O,” as he’s nicknamed, has kept in touch with the local talent on UH’s roster, Kamehameha alumnus Dyrbe Enos and the incoming walk-on Zach Buscher out of ‘Iolani.

“I even contacted them when I came down, seeing if they have any pickup games,” Ko said. “I kept in contact with them to see how they (were) doing, and they asked vice versa how I was doing. We kept in touch this whole time.”

Will Ko see much action in Pitt’s four games in the islands? It might seem unlikely, but you never know. What’s given: his homecoming will mark a special and rare moment for a homegrown Division I player hooping it up at a successful power conference school.