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Newcomers impress in Green & White scrimmage

Much of the hope for this 2017-18 University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team has been centered around having four returning starters and a fifth from two years ago.

But it actually was several newcomers who provided added hope Sunday afternoon in the Warriors’ annual Green & White Scrimmage, in which players rotated between the two teams over three 8-to-12 minute “segments,” or periods. Among the pleasant surprises were true freshman and Kahuku High School graduate Samuta Avea (14 points, six rebounds), sophomore transfer Brandon Thomas (12 points, four rebounds, four assists) and redshirt freshman Drew Buggs (11 points, six rebounds, five assists).

Returning starter Sheriff Drammeh led all players with 17 points and eight rebounds, and junior Jack Purchase, another returning starter, added 12 points.

But the appreciative crowd of about 700 at the Stan Sheriff Center had the biggest applause for Avea, Thomas and Buggs, whom many were seeing play for the first time live.

“Drew Buggs is a great point guard, Samuta is a high flyer, you’re gonna love that, and he’s a local boy and everybody loves him out here,” Purchase said. “But all the new faces, everybody can play, we’re gonna be deep this year. Whoever comes off the bench, we’re not going to lose much.”

Purchase, Thomas and Avea each hit a 3-pointer in the scrimmage’s first three minutes to give the White a 9-3 lead following Drammeh’s three-point play to open the action for the Green. Avea later sank both ends of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity and had three rebounds in the 12-minute first segment.

“It was awesome, yeah definitely some jitters at the beginning, but I had my family and friends here and it was a cool experience,” Avea said. “It was really fun, today was like how we scrimmage in practice, Coach had us in different rotations so we’re used to playing with a lot of different guys around us.”

The second, 10-minute segment featured another true freshman, 6-foot-5 swingman Justin Hemsley, who scored six points.

UH coach Eran Ganot said Avea and the other newcomers provided glimpses of their potential to contribute.

“Samuta came out of the gates pretty well early, he had a great approach, obviously made some shots and got after the glass,” Ganot said. “All those guys showed some flashes. We gotta have more consistent flashes moving forward.”

The third, eight-minute segment ended with Buggs’ draining a 22-footer in the closing seconds to lift the Green to a 21-18 victory.

“I just wanted to get the best shot available, I swung it around and my teammates found me open, and I just had to take a shot,” Buggs said. “I’m always really confident with myself, because that’s key, you have to have confidence. So every time I step on the court, I just want to do everything I can to help this team win. Of course, there’s things I gotta work on, but I feel like as long as I put in the work and keep my confidence high and attitude right, I’ll do that.”

Ganot said he was particularly impressed with Buggs’ finish, considering he started out quietly with zero points on only two short shot attempts in the first segment.

“Drew, I was really pleased with — even though he struggled early, I was really pleased with how he handled it,” Ganot said. “That’s a big thing we talk about all the time — we’re not going to go theatric and dramatic on the sidelines with a make or miss. It’s more how do we handle things — how we handle success, how we handle failure. He struggled early, and as a point guard, leading huddles, he gave himself chances to succeed down the road. And you saw how he played better in the next two segments, especially when he hit a big shot (at the end). He deserved that, because of the approach he had.”

Ganot added that Buggs’ poise is extra critical considering his position.

“That’s a big part of being a player, is you gotta believe (in yourself) when things aren’t going your way,” Ganot said. “Especially as a leader, especially as a point (guard). So it’s a credit to him, he’s gonna have some breakthroughs, he’s gonna have some ups and downs. But he’s having less downs, and this was another step for him. I’m really pleased with how he finished off and how he’s coming along. He’s getting better.”

Buggs said the confidence is widespread throughout the team, individually and collectively.

“We just wanted to come out here and play hard, play as a team, and work on our chemistry because we were mixing up the groups,” Buggs said. “But whoever is out on the floor, we have very high confidence in each other, and so I think we just wanted to come out here and show the fans that we have a really good team this year — top to bottom, everybody can play.”

Overall, Ganot said the team achieved its goal of taking a step forward by getting live game-type experience in the home arena in front of fans, after holding mostly private structured workouts the past three weeks.

“No different than at practice — your hope is that we’re taking a step in the right direction,” Ganot said. “You can play well, or not play as well, but there are things you can learn from either way. I think the big thing for us was, the next step for our current team was to play a little more live game situations, playing in front of a crowd. I thought we got out of the gate well early in terms of shooting the ball, and then our balance — in terms of playing inside-outside — wasn’t quite where it needed to be. But I thought the energy was good, the attitudes were good … things we can learn from with the naked eye, there’s some things that stand out. And then we’re looking forward to watching film.”

Regarding the inside-out balance, Ganot said part of the need for improvement involves finishing plays.

“A big strength for us is inside, and you saw some of the success we had,” Ganot said. “The other thing is, when we did get inside, we rushed some shots around the rim, so I would say having a better (inside-outside) balance and making those bunnies around the rim, finishing strong … those are the kind of things that stood out.”

Ultimately, Ganot said just the scrimmage itself and the atmosphere surrounding it was significant.

“I know we appreciate the turnout, we appreciate the support we’ve always had,” Ganot said. “I know our guys appreciate it, it meant a lot. They did a good job, we played three different segments, we mixed man and zone (defense), we mixed lineups, we mixed matchups, there were some situations in there. I don’t always think if it’s going well, or not going well, that’s how you determine (success) at this point of the year. The bottom line is is was something necessary for us to move forward.”

The players, meanwhile, enjoyed the change of pace.

“We just want to get out on the court, in front of the fans and have some fun,” Purchase said. “We’ve just been in the gym, against each other, so it brings more energy for us when there’s people in the stands and we’re having fun. We’re just trying to work on what we’ve been trying to do in the last three weeks of practice.”

Said Buggs:

“It was real fun to finally get out there and play in front of the crowd, it’s just something I’ve always dreamed of, playing (NCAA) Division I basketball. It was just a great time to get out there and have fun with my teammates.

“I think we did a really good job, everybody came out and we played hard, we played as a team, we played unselfish,” Buggs said. “Of course, there are things we still need to work on, (but) we’ve still got time before the season to tune up some things, both offensively and defensively. But I think as a unit, we played really well today.”

(Photos courtesy Matt Osumi)

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(Photos courtesy Matt Osumi)

6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the highlights and story, Dayton and Wes .
    We could have some shooters this season, if they can do it vs. the real opponents.

  2. Anyone who went to the game had to be impressed.The returning players will be improved and the newcomers will contribute heavyily. Avea looks like a young Aaron Valdes. Best bench in the conference. Impressed with Brandon Thomas potential not only as a shooter but a lock down defender. Great intensity. The two Thomas’ will do some major damage. This team will contend for the Big West title. Slowly but methodically Ganot’s making believers of us all.

  3. Ido Flaisher seemed taller, quicker and stronger. Go Bows

  4. It’s interesting how people can watch the same game and have a completely different view of the performance of the team and specific players.

  5. UC Irvine this season:

    6-8.. F. Tommy Rutherford..soph
    6-9.. F. Collin Welp..frosh
    6-9.. F. Elston Jones..rs junior
    6-10. F. Jon Galloway..junior
    6-10. C. Brad Greene..soph
    7-1….C. Solomon Ruddel..frosh

  6. Irvine has always focused on having a lot of bigs on the roster. Galloway is an athletic 5 and Greene is a space eater but isn’t really skilled. It will be interesting if UH tries to match the size or if they go small ball.

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