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Inaugural “Tip-Off Event” makes smashing debut

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If anyone thought the buzz around University of Hawai’i men’s basketball has worn off after last year’s historic season, Thursday night’s inaugural “Tip-Off Event” at the Stan Sheriff Center proved otherwise.

Around 450 curious but enthusiastic fans showed up for the $100-per-person, $1,000-per-table fundraiser, which also included a successful silent auction which no doubt generated thousands of dollars more. Proceeds will go toward the Rainbow Warrior program, with an emphasis on the student-athlete’s nutritional needs.

The supporters were treated to a lively atmosphere — the temporarily carpeted basketball court served as a nice banquet floor — that included a full buffet dinner, adult beverages and soft drinks, plus entertaining “Q & A” sessions with players and coaches on an impromptu “OC Sports Game On” stage hosted by the Game On crew of Scott Robbs, Kawika Hallums and Johnny White.

“It was indescribable — it was encouraging, it was inspiring,” said UH coach Eran Ganot of the event, minutes after it drew to a close. “You know, you have a vision for something, something we’ve wanted to do for the development of the program, among other things … having our guys feel like this is a top-tier program. I think we have great potential here, and as much as people are excited about the end-of-the-year banquet and celebrating the season, this is different. We thought they would be just as excited to finally celebrate the start of the season. And this was a first-class event.”

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The event began at 5:30 p.m. with a cocktail hour and mingling, along with the opening of the silent auction featuring items like hotel stays at Sheraton Waikiki or Outrigger on the Beach, plus fine wine, a large framed and autographed photo of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird during their famous 1979 NCAA Championship game, and a framed autographed Orlando Magic jersey worn by Shaquille O’Neal, which the winning bidder promptly gave to Ganot as a gift.

After an introduction of the players and coaches followed by dinner, a short UH preseason video was shown on the big screen TVs.

ESPN1420 AM radio color commentator Jeff Portnoy then announced a “Coaches vs. Cancer” fundraising event set for Nov. 17 at Murphy’s Bar & Grill, in which Ganot and North Carolina coach Roy Williams are expected to participate.

That was followed by a Q & A with Ganot, then another Q & A with returning players Sheriff Drammeh, Mike Thomas and Zach Buscher. After a short break, there was a Q & A with assistant coaches Adam Jacobsen, Chris Acker and John Montgomery, followed by another Q & A with newcomers Noah Allen, Gibson Johnson and Matt Owies.

The Q & A’s were informative, entertaining and at times hilarious thanks in large part to Hallums, a former UH point guard (1987-89) who often had the crowd in stitches with his classic local-boy humor.

During the interview with Ganot, Hallums mentioned how he would text Ganot last season asking for tickets within an hour of tip-off.

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“And I can’t believe he answered!” Hallums said. “I was like, ‘Wow Coach, shouldn’t you be in a meeting right now, or something?’ ”

Hallums then said, “By the way, coach, I need seven tickets for the (Nov. 18) Carolina game … Nah, nah, nah. I’ll take two. Two in the rafters.”

After hearing Allen answer his first question, Hallums was taken aback by the UCLA transfer’s smooth, “Barry White-like” voice and delivery.

“Whoah!” Hallums said. “I love the way he talks, I love it … hey, dim down the lights, dim down the lights!”

Hallums then did a spot-on impersonation of Allen, which he also did with Australia native Owies.

Ganot said the casual Q & A format allowed fans to get to know the newcomers, while also allowing the newcomers to get to know the people who will be interviewing them on live TV this season.

Ganot added that this team needs and deserves as much support as last year’s, probably even more.

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“The natural concern when you have so much turnover is that the momentum (of fan support) can go away,” Ganot said. “Last year’s group went through a lot, and they needed that support. (But) you could argue that this team needs as much support as any in the program’s history. They’re going to be dealing with even more of the fallout (of NCAA sanctions). We don’t look at that as an excuse, we focus on what we can control. But this group is working hard every day to represent the school in the best way they can.”

If Thursday night’s turnout and energy is any indication, the UH fans will recognize and appreciate that.

“The people here support good performance, obviously, but they also support effort, they support those who wear our uniform,” Ganot said, “And they support doing things the right way.”

Ganot gave special thanks to event organizer Sydney Hamada and his committee, SSC manager Rich Sheriff, food vendor Sodexo, emcee Robbs and Hallums and White, and all of the other event sponsors and attendees.

“A lot of things needed to happen to make this night special,” Ganot said. “And I appreciate everyone’s effort to do that.”

(Photos courtesy Brandon Flores / www.brandonfloresphotography.com)

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