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Gone to Maui: Warriors play Chicago State in Lahaina

For the record, Chicago State is not trying to join the Big West Conference or the Western Athletic Conference

As it stands, the Hawaii basketball team will play Chicago State for the third consecutive season on Friday night.

“Yeah, it is like playing a conference team,” said senior forward Bill Amis, who was on the Hawaii teams that beat Chicago State in 2008 and 2009. “We see them every year.”

But the strangeness hardly ends there for this game.

The “home” game for the Warriors will be played on the island of Maui, at the Lahaina Civic Center. It is part of the UH athletic department’s plan to reach fans on the various Hawaiian Islands, as several other sports have played on other islands in recent years.

“We’re not really going to be there to visit the place,” junior guard Zane Johnson said. “We’re going there to play a game and win.”

The Warriors made a 35-minute flight from Honolulu to Maui on Thursday afternoon, and will spend Thursday night in a Ka’anapali hotel. In effect, they are treating it like a road game.

Hawaii is 6-2, including 6-0 at home. The Cougars are 3-9, and have already played nine away games.

The member of the Hawaii basketball team with the strangest feelings for the game is assistant coach Benjy Taylor. He was the head coach at Chicago State for three seasons before joining Hawaii this season.

He was the head coach of the Cougars when the Warriors beat them in 2008 and 2009. He was also the head coach at Chicago State when this year’s game was scheduled – not knowing at the time, of course, that he would end up on the Hawaii staff.

“I don’t know how many times that’s happened in collegiate sports, but it’s kind of a strange situation,” Taylor said.

If anything, Taylor will be able to provide a detailed scouting report on the Chicago State players.

“I know everybody on that roster,” he said. “Every one on that roster is guys that I signed … they’re a very dangerous team and we’ll have to play well to beat them.”

Taylor said new Chicago State head coach Tracy Dildy has implemented an up-tempo style that is still a work in progress. The Cougars have surrendered 90 or more points to six opponents already this season, but have yet to reach 90 in any game themselves.

“They’re pressing a lot more, gambling a lot more – they’re trying to speed you up,” Taylor said. “If you self-destruct, they can be pretty dangerous to play against.”

Chicago State’s top player is Carl Montgomery, a 6-foot-7 senior forward. He is averaging 12.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and was a starter during all three of Taylor’s seasons at Chicago State. Antonio Lofton, a 6-5 senior forward, is contributing 10.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Amis leads Hawaii with 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He has missed the last four games with a stress fracture in his right foot, and his status for Friday’s game remains doubtful. Even if he can play, it would only be for a few minutes.

Senior point guard Hiram Thompson is averaging 13.1 points per game, sophomore forward Joston Thomas is contributing 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and Zane Johnson is scoring 11.5 per game.

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