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Warriors begin practices with a new look

Practice time for the University of Hawai’i’s 100th men’s basketball season officially opened Saturday afternoon with little fanfare and lots of new looks, even from returning players.


Noticeably absent at the Stan Sheriff Center were last year’s three graduating seniors — Sheriff Drammeh, Brocke Stepteau and Jack Purchase — as well as former associate head coach Adam Jacobsen, all of whom had been fixtures in the program’s previous four seasons. Not to mention former athletic trainer Jayson “Jay” Goo, who had been working with UH basketball the past four decades.


Making their official practice debuts were new assistant coach Chris Gerlufsen, freshmen Justin Webster, Jessiya Villa, Bernardo Da Silva, Garrett Cason, Kameron Ng and senior transfer Ahmed Ali. Even the Stan Sheriff Center court looked different, with a new lighter ash-colored shade.


“We’re a little behind the curve compared to last year’s team, because last year we had some (extra) full practices in the summer and went to Australia, and we just had a lot of veterans and guys who had played,” said point guard Drew Buggs, a fourth-year redshirt junior. “But this team has a lot of energy and we compete really hard, and we’ve got some quick burners. So we’re looking to catch up and get to the right spot.”


Even as the “veterans,” Buggs and fellow junior Samuta Avea sported new elements as consistent 3-point shooters throughout the three-hour session. Avea’s outside shot in particular appeared to have much better ball rotation and arch compared to the previous two seasons.


“This is my 17th year coaching (overall) and I think ‘Muta is one of the top two or three workers I’ve ever coached,” said head coach Eran Ganot. “He’s become a really good shooter, he’s had some breakthroughs and he’s gaining confidence, and our guys have confidence in him. We want him to shoot when he’s open.”


Buggs said developing into a legitimate 3-point threat was an off-season priority, especially considering the graduation of Purchase and Stepteau, who contributed much of the long-range production for the Warriors in the past three seasons.


“That’s part of my game that I’ll have to contribute, because we lost such great shooters,” Buggs said. “And also just to make it harder for myself to (be guarded), if I can score, it’ll make it easier to make the assist and just play the way that I like to play. I know I’m not going to be looking to over-shoot or force things, but I want to be able to shoot and be a threat and make teams have to worry about where I am on the court.”


Ganot said with the return of senior guard Eddie Stansberry — who was a consistent 3-point threat last year — and the improvement of Avea and Buggs, plus the addition of newcomers Webster and Ali, he believes the team will continue to get a bulk of scoring from beyond the arc. Webster, a 6-3 guard from Dallas, was particularly impressive throughout Saturday’s practice by swishing 3’s in almost every drill and scrimmage-type situation.


“We take great pride in shooting and great pride in spacing — not just being in the right spot, but shooting helps your spacing,” Ganot said. “I think we’ve tried to bring in shooting and I think we develop shooting. It was fun to watch the improvement of Jack and improvement of Brocke over the years, and now you return a guy like Eddie Stansberry … and then you bring in a guy like Ahmed, who has a track record for shooting the ball … You add Webster, you add Ahmed, and then you add the improvement of Samuta and the improvement of Drew, and we’ll go from there.”


Buggs and senior post Zigmars Raimo, who is another returning starter, said leadership is another area where the departure of Stepteau, Purchase and Drammeh will need to be addressed.


“I knew that this year, being my fourth year, mentally I have to be someone that the younger guys look up to,” Raimo said. “I have to lead by example.”


Buggs said part of his role is to challenge his teammates on a daily basis.


“Every day, I’m going to instill that in the team, I think that’s something we really need to work on,” Buggs said. “I just tell them that we can’t be complacent, even if we feel like we’re doing good right now. I tell them that we’re behind where we were with last year’s team, and last year’s team won 18 games, so if we want to be better than that, we gotta turn it up a notch and each and every day remind ourselves of that end goal, which is to win the Big West (Conference) championship.”


Ganot said veteran leadership continues to be critical for the program.
“It usually starts there,” Ganot said. “Experience helps — you can see how much more comfortable Eddie is in year two, and how really comfortable Drew is in year four …”


Ganot said the blending of veterans and newcomers is a challenge he welcomes himself.


“There’s always integrating the new guys and some of the adjustments we’re going to make with this group,” Ganot said. “We’re going to make sure we are detailed and sharp with what we do put in, and start to build off of it.”

2 Comments

  1. Good video and article.

  2. Mahalo, Dayton and Wes. Hopefully, the trio of 7-footers have also stepped up and the team makes a legit run to the conference title.

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