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Seniors Stepteau, Drammeh and Purchase have come a long way

Brocke Stepteau, Sheriff Drammeh and Jack Purchase came to the University of Hawai’i from places far and wide, and their collective impact on the school’s men’s basketball program has also gone a long way.

The three seniors will wrap up one major portion of their colorful journey at 8 p.m. Saturday when they take to the Stan Sheriff Center court for the final time in the season’s home finale against Big West Conference rival CSUN.

As the trio laced up their sneakers for this week’s practices, the reality of Senior Night started to hit each of them.

“It definitely (has), it’s the last home game, last time playing in front of the fans, in front of the state, on the home court,” said Stepteau, a 5-foot-9 point guard from Dallas. “And then last road trip and then the Big West, so we’ll see what happens from there. You never really know what you have until it’s about to end or you lose it, so now I’m looking forward to every moment I can every practice, all of that, because it’s going to end pretty soon.”

Purchase, standing outside the team locker room after Tuesday’s practice, said the moment is not lost on him, either.

“We’ve been coming here every day for the past four years, you never really think it’s going to end, but now this is our last week a student-athlete at Hawai’i,” said Purchase, a 6-8 forward from Melbourne. “It’s sad, but at the same time we’ve got to stay locked in and stay focused, we’ve got a good CSUN team coming in, they’ve got some great players and we didn’t win on Senior Night last year so we’re to try to get that back.”

Drammeh, a 6-3 shooting guard from Stockholm, said the emotions are flowing but not so much as to become a negative distraction.

“It’s always about the task at hand,” Drammeh said. “We need to take care of business first.”

That approach is what brought each of the three seniors to Hawai’i in the first place, and what has made them endeared by Warrior fans well beyond the solid statistics they have put up.

Drammeh was recruited off of Sweden’s youth national (U18) team and said he knew right away UH was the school for him when he arrived for his recruiting trip in 2015.

“The only thing I knew about Hawai’i was from ‘Lilo and Stitch,’ ” Drammeh said. “But once I got here, I fell in love with this place immediately. The weather was crazy (good), the people were crazy (good) … I loved it.”

Along with Stepteau, Drammeh was a seldom-used freshman who rode the end of the bench until contributing a surprising 21 minutes helping to spell injured Aaron Valdes in a 65-57 home victory over UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 9, 2016. Besides hitting a key baseline jumper, the 160-pound Drammeh also took a critical charging call while being run over by the Gauchos’ 6-4, 205-pound Michael Bryson.

Drammeh soon became known throughout the league as perhaps its best charge-taker — a reputation he has kept along with other defensive skills throughout his career — and was a key reserve on the record-setting team that advanced to the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, he stepped up his offensive game and averaged 9.2 points per game as a sophomore, 10.7 ppg as a junior and is averaging 7 ppg this season. But beyond the stats, he won the Big West Best Hustle award in 2018-19, and currently ranks seventh all-time among all UH players in games played (111), with a realistic chance of passing Alika Smith and Mike McIntyre into fifth place by season’s end.

Stepteau will also leave his mark in the Warriors record book, as his current season free throw percentage of 86.7 would place him third all-time behind Bobby Nash (2007-08) and Chris Gaines (1987-88). But perhaps even more impressive is his career mark of 57 games started — not bad for a walk-on who received zero Division I scholarship offers out of high school.

“I had a lot of Division II schools (offering), but I felt like I could play at the Division I level,” said Stepteau, who did draw interest from former UH coach Gib Arnold. “He said, ‘We don’t have a scholarship for you at the time, but I’d love for you to come as a walk-on, I feel like you can be a big part of the program and if the opportunity presents itself you can work your way up.’ So that’s all I needed, I just wanted a chance, and that’s the first school to give it to me. I felt like I needed to come here it’s a good opportunity for me.

“I didn’t know anything about Hawai’i, I had never been to Hawai’i, I’d seen it on TV, but I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even take a visit, I just came out here for summer school. I knew whatever school gave me the opportunity, just come here and work, that’s all I want, is to have a shot.”

Stepteau redshirted his first season and then spent 2015-16 at the end of the bench as part of the famed “Hawai’i Five-O” reserve squad, which gained national attention for its choreographed routines. But as a sophomore, he emerged as a key player on the floor, appearing in all 30 games with 22 starts, leading the team in assists and ranking fourth in the Big West in assist/turnover ratio.

As a junior, Stepteau averaged 9.5 points per game, finished third in the Big West in 3-point field goal percentage (44.4 percent) and earned the team’s Most Improved Player award for the second straight season.

This season, he scored a career-high 24 points in an upset of Utah and earned the nickname “Late Clock Brocke” for his ability to hit clutch baskets in the game’s crucial final moments. He also earned that long-coveted Division I scholarship.

“That was the dream, I always dreamed about playing at the Division I level, but everyone was telling me I was too small, so when I got here I’m not thinking this is going to be the end result,” Stepteau said. “But it’s just been an amazing ride, from where I started as Five-O to where I am now, it’s just cool, it’s been a great ride. My other seniors, Purch, Sheriff — we all started at the bottom and worked our way up. It’s coming to an end, but (I) appreciate the journey, for sure.”

Purchase spent his freshman year seeing limited action at Auburn, then asked for and received his release to transfer.

“Pretty much 20 minutes after my release, Coach (Eran) Ganot was the first one to call me,” Purchase said. “We set up a visit then and there. Did some (other) visits, came to Hawai’i on my way home from my last visit and couldn’t look past it, it was amazing — the coaching staff was great, the place was great, the state is amazing, the facilities are good, so it was a no-brainer for me in the end. 

“I didn’t know much about Hawai’i, I was ready for a new beginning, I was in Alabama and it was a lot different than it was in Australia, different from how it is here. I was coming out here just to play basketball again, I knew I’d get an opportunity here.”

Per NCAA transfer rules, Purchase redshirted his first year at UH and watched from the stands in Spokane, Wash., as the Warriors upset No. 4 seeded Cal and then lost a hard-fought second round game to No. 5 seed Maryland.

As a sophomore, Purchase made an immediate impact by starting all 30 games, draining 72 shots from beyond the arc and averaging 9.2 ppg. He switched roles as a junior and was named Big West Sixth Man of the Year, then returned to his regular spot in the lineup and has started all 27 games this season, averaging 11.5 ppg and 6 rebounds per outing.

Purchase already is UH’s all-time leader in 3-point goals made with 188, and needs just two more makes from beyond the arc to crack the school’s Top 10 for most 3-pointers in a single season with 68.

But like Drammeh and Stepteau, Purchase will take much more from his experience at Hawai’i than impressive stats in the record book.

“I’ve been here four years now, and it definitely feels like home,” Purchase said. “When we say we want to get back home, I’m talking about Hawai’i, I don’t think Australia. This is home for me, it’s been home for the past four years and I’ve loved every moment of it. There’s always Australia first, but now Hawai’i is second, right up there with there with it. I definitely love the island and will be coming back a lot for years (to come).”

Even years from now away from Hawai’i, the bond between Drammeh, Stepteau and Purchase promises to remain strong.

“Brocke and I have lived together the last three years, and after that first year, it was just me, Brocke, Sheriff, Zach Buscher and Mike Thomas for three or four months — it was just us,”  Purchase said. “Over the years, we’ve gotten closer and closer — you hang out every day, you get to know exactly how each other is, what makes them tick, what makes them laugh.

“I consider those two guys brothers right now, and they always will be. I’m sure there will be a point where we’ll end up in Sweden catching up, or in Australia or Texas catching up, so it’ll be good, I’m looking forward to the future as well and staying close with those boys.”

HAWAI’I (16-11, 7-6 Big West) vs. CSUN (12-17, 6-7)
When: Saturday, March 2, 8:00 p.m. HT
Where: Stan Sheriff Center (10,300) – Honolulu, HI
Television: Live on Spectrum Sports – Channels 16 (SD) and 1016 (HD). 
Streaming Video: BigWest.TV (Must be a Spectrum cable subscriber to stream in Hawai’i).
Radio: Live on ESPN 1420 AM. Neighbor islands can listen live on KNUI on Maui, KPUA on the Big Island, KTOH on Kaua’i, and KNWJ in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Audio Webcast:ESPN1420am.com/Sideline Hawai’i App.
Live Stats:HawaiiAthletics.com
Ticket Information: Lower Level – $30 for all seats. Upper Level – $18 or $20 for adults, $16 or $18 for senior citizens (ages 65 and older), $5 or $7 for students (ages 4 through high school). Upper level prices vary by section. UH Manoa students free with validated ID. Parking is $6.

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