Stan Sheriff Center: Memories of 2001-02 Hawaii men’s basketball team

Predrag Savovic, Phil Martin, Carl English and Mindaugas Burneika celebrated winning the Rainbow Classic by beating Georgia 54-44 on Dec. 22, 2001. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

I can thank the University of Hawaii sports teams for most of my experiences with snow. Think Rainbow Wahine volleyball in 1983, ’87, ’88 and ’96 (NCAA final fours in Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio) to name a few sub-freezing sites.
And then there is black ice.
Outside of driving in an almost-blinding snowstorm from Colorado State to Denver International after the Wahine lost in the 2008 regional final to Stanford, the drive on the I-244 in Tulsa might just be the scariest.
The road was a lot smoother for the UH men’s basketball team at the 2002 Western Athletic Conference tournament when the Rainbows rolled through the field with wins over San Jose State, Nevada and the host Golden Hurricane, the margin of victory an average of 17 points.
Then it was on to Dallas for the program’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, and bringing a No. 25 national ranking along.
That Hawaii team was fun to cover because of its roster makeup. It was heavily international with players from Canada, Israel, Serbia, Lithuania, South Africa and Nigeria, but they had that same sophisticated naiveté as the lone player from Hawaii who played against No. 22 Xavier at the American Airlines Center.
Lance Takaki (Mid-Pacific), at 5-foot-4, was literally treated like the little brother. His teammates lovingly picked on him, including during the visit to the mall in Dallas that was having a pet adoption drive.
The question was: Could Takaki fit in one of the empty kennels? Not sure where the pictorial evidence is but he could and did, perhaps spending a little more time in the cage than he had anticipated.
And then onto the West Regional game with the David West-led Musketeers. Hawaii came out on a tear, leading by as much as 12 late in the first. Predrag Savovic had 16 points and Carl English’s 3-pointer — Hawaii’s fifth of the game — put the Rainbows up 40-28 with 3:07 remaining in the half.
Things began to fall apart from there, really unraveling in the final 43 seconds before intermission. Forget West, it came in the person of Romain Sato.
Sato scored twice, bracketing a moment-changing questionable charge call on English. It ended with a dagger of a 3-pointer at the buzzer, Sato open at the top of the key after point guard Mark Campbell got caught in a screen.
Xavier went into the locker room down 40-33 but outscored Hawaii 13-1 in the first 7:38 of the second half. The Rainbows never led again, eliminated again in the first round 70-58.
There was no snow or black ice but it was a very cold way to finish a record-breaking 27-6 season.

Lance Takaki went up for a shot against Norfolk State on Nov. 16, 2001. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda
Phil Martin, Carl English (23), Tony Akpan and Haim Shimonovich celebrated Hawaii’s 73-59 win over Tulsa in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference men’s tournament in Tulsa, Okla., on March 9, 2002. / Associated Press file photo by David Crenshaw


  1. HawaiiMongoose October 18, 2019 3:14 pm

    I was at that game in Dallas. At tip-off folks around me were wondering out loud who all these UH players with the funny foreign names were. But as UH started to build a lead there were comments like “wow those guys can really play” and most of the crowd started to cheer for the underdog team from Hawaii.

    It was all good and I felt like UH was in control until that stretch before halftime when the wheels came off. West wasn’t much of a factor that day but Sato killed us. Nonetheless it was a great season.

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