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Warriors coping with abrupt Big West Tourney cancellation

FULLERTON, Calif. — When it rained in soggy Orange County Thursday morning, it poured.

The dream of the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team notching its first Big West Conference Tournament victory since 2016 was abruptly washed away less than 12 hours before tipoff at the Honda Center in Anaheim when the league announced all games are cancelled effective immediately, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

So just like that — as the Warriors were in a meeting room at the Fullerton Marriott preparing for a 5:30 p.m. (Hawai’i time) first-round game against UC Davis — an emotional up-and-down 100th anniversary season is over at 17-13.

“Zigmars (Raimo) came in and told us, ‘It’s done,’ telling us it’s cancelled, and they’re going to release the news soon to the public,” said junior wing Justin Hemsley. “The feeling in the room was, well, it shocked everybody. Even though we all kind of expected it, we really didn’t want to believe it. So once they told us, that’s when it started to settle in, like man, it’s done.

“We just had practice yesterday, we were just about ready to watch film today and get ready for our game tonight and so, it’s crazy. This is just something you wouldn’t ever think is possible of happening.”

A few hours after the announcement, senior Eddie Stansberry said he was still trying to process the latest development.

“It’s just a lot to take in right now, just emotionally there’s a lot going on,” Stansberry said. “The fact that we’re not able to play in the tournament itself, and there’s nothing we can physically do to have a chance to go at it … It’s kind of draining, it’s heartbreaking.

“I feel it, my teammates feel it, the emotions are high right now. For me, it’s my senior year, my career here is done, so it’s kind of sad to think about it that way.

“This is an unfortunate situation, it’s crazy to think about.”

The devastating news came less than 48 hours after another sudden unexpected announcement that the game at Honda Center would be played without spectators.

Then, shortly after the Thursday morning announcement of the Big West Conference Tournament, Hemsley said the players were informed via email from UH President David Lassner that all classes would be conducted online only the rest of the semester.

With such a whirlwind of changes announced in less than three days’ span, Warriors coach Eran Ganot said he tried to help the players cope with it all, which was a difficult thing to do even for himself.

“A lot is going on, it’s a surreal experience and continues to be surreal,” Ganot said. “Like the rest of the world, there’s a bigger picture here and we’re all trying to figure out what is going on. It’s never easy when you inform them of something like this.

“We’ve got such great young men, student-athletes who do things right and battled through a lot of things. This has kind of been a microcosm of our season.”

“We’re going to communicate with them like we always do, talk things through … and then shift gears and (take) next steps.”

The team was scheduled to return to Honolulu late Thursday evening, although some players like Hemsley and Stansberry — both of whom are from California — will stay back for at least a day or two to spend time with family.

As Ganot alluded to, the season’s abrubt and bizarre ending was just the last in a string of unexpected obstacles the Warriors have had to overcome since early October. It started when guard Ahmed Ali, a senior transfer from Washington State, was forced to retire for medical reasons before the season opener.

Also in October, starting point guard Drew Buggs’ mother passed away unexpectedly after a battle with breast cancer.

In early November, Ganot himself was suddenly sidelined for more than seven weeks (13 games) due his own medical issue.

Then, after a fast conference start in early January, the team lost starters Bernardo da Silva and Samuta Avea to injury, with both sidelined into February.

And then, finally, the stunning announcements on Tuesday and Thursday.
Stansberry and Hemsley both said that while the constant adversity has been difficult and challenging to face and overcome, it helped build inner strength that should help them in the future.

“Long-term, I think it will build character and prepare us for the real world,” Stansberry said. “When you get out in the real world, you know you’ve got to make a living, you gotta get a job to take care of yourself and support others.

“Sometimes you get slapped in the face with reality and it sucks, but you gotta get back up and do it all over again.”

Ganot said he wanted to make sure the players left with a positive perspective, despite the crushing news Thursday morning.

“We had a second meeting (Thursday), to try to put some closure on this, as best we could with the situation,” Ganot said. “We go back to perspective, always, and this is a tough one. I think it’s important what we talk about all the time, what you control and what you can’t. 

“But bottom line, it was to thank them. I thank everybody in our program for fighting through a lot this year to give us another winning season. But more importantly, to tell them how proud we were of them — especially our seniors (Stansberry and Raimo).

“They should never hang their heads, particularly after what they’ve done for our program.”

1 Comment

  1. JC 6-7 Manel Ayol commits to UH.

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