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Benefits of Down Under Tour show in opening practices

The benefits of an historic summer trip Down Under were evident this past weekend as the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team began official practice for the 2018-19 season a step ahead and ready to take more big steps forward.

Due to a busy weekend of events on UH’s Lower Campus and a renovation project temporarily closing the familiar “Gym II,” the Warriors held their first practice at ‘Iolani School on Saturday and then moved Sunday to the low-profile “Gym I,” a warm, aging-but-functional facility more commonly used for student pickup games, intramurals and even badminton.
But as well-traveled teams often do, they took everything in stride.

“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of gyms that we can use at this point, even though we’re down a gym,” UH coach Eran Ganot said. “It’s a good workout, gives you a good sweat, guys are competing. We’ve had two really good back-to-back days, which is nice to see. Obviously we have moments where we have to break through, but those are what we need now so we can learn from it and grow.”

This team has already grown a lot over the past several seasons and especially during the summer, when it took an unprecedented 10-day tour of Australia, including four exhibition games against Aussie teams. NCAA rules allow programs to take one such foreign trip every four years, and Ganot and the players attest to the benefits.

“Everyone enjoys each other’s company, and spending 10 days in Australia definitely helped us with that,” senior forward Jack Purchase said. “I think that was the main thing we took out of it – how we bonded. It definitely helped us, and it helps on the court now. We’ve (already) had a couple good practices.”

For Purchase, who is from Melbourne, the trip was especially gratifying.

“That was fun, good to go home and play some Aussie teams, and to play in front of my family and friends… it was enjoyable,” Purchase said. “I loved showing the boys around Melbourne and Sydney … showing them the food, getting them to try meat pie. It was fun, it was a great offseason.”

Ganot said he is glad the Warriors were able to seize the opportunity.
“Simply put, for that tour – how often do you get to practice together like that, play games together, travel together at that time of the year?” Ganot said.

“Traveling together is a great experience, guys traveled well, and you can see the chemistry is pretty good. We’re starting to gain that chemistry not just off the floor, but on the floor, finding each other, knowing their comfort zones, things like that.”

Stepteau, a senior point guard, said he noticed the difference between this opening weekend from the previous four years’.

“I think we have, at this point, we have a little more experience than we’ve had in the past, just because we’ve had four games under our belt in Australia and because of that, we had to practice even before that,” said Stepteau, who redshirted his freshman year.

Ganot said he has written proof of the head start.

“We still want to make sure we teach the foundation and not skip steps, but the learning curve is a lot quicker this time – if you look at our practice notes from years past, we’re further ahead,” Ganot said. “But you don’t want to skip steps, you want to continue to get better and take advantage of that time.”

Given the unfamiliar surroundings, and especially the humid conditions during Sunday’s two-hour, 35 minute practice in Gym II, Ganot said he is happy with the Warriors’ ability to stay focused.

“I think each time we added a couple huddles in there, we tried to be supportive, it’s important to give them their water breaks (since) they’re losing a lot of sweat,” Ganot said. “It was a good challenge for the team, they need to stay consistent through the course of a practice like that, especially when we’re going back-to-back. But right now I feel like when they’ve had a moment when they could veer off the path, they found a way to stay together and push through. That’s how you really get better, is those moments when you could go either way, and it’s nice when you can have some of those moments presented to you at this time of the year.”

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