Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Hemsley gives Warriors a much-needed energy boost

In these urgent times when many are looking for a protective shot in the arm, University of Hawai’i redshirt junior Justin Hemsley is apparently providing the Warrior men’s basketball team with a much-needed vaccine for sluggish play.

Hemsley, a 6-foot-6 combo forward from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., played mostly a support role his first two seasons in Manoa but nonetheless has shown an uncanny ability to provide a spark off the bench just when his team needs it most. That was evident again in last Saturday’s 89-66 victory over visiting UH-Hilo, when he helped the Warriors stave off a couple of rallies by the upset-minded Vulcans and ignited an early second-half surge that allowed them to pull away for good.  

“I thought he was a big difference in that game — we talked about energy, and he was a part of our turnaround, that’s why he started the second half,” Hawai’i coach Eran Ganot said. “He deserved it, he earned it, and it paid dividends to our team, and that’s a credit to him.”

Hemsley entered the game just past the five-minute mark with the Warriors ahead, 7-4. Within 90 seconds, he hit a short jumper in the paint to start a 7-2 run that extended the lead to 17-8, and later made a layup to push it to 24-15 before returning to the bench. Hemsley re-entered the game at the 4:14 mark with UH leading, 28-22, and again in less than two minutes he grabbed a defensive rebound, made a steal and sank a free throw. He then made another free throw with 38 seconds remaining to give the Warriors a 10-point lead that they held at halftime.

Hemsley then slammed home a thunderous slam dunk 10 seconds into the second half to ignite a 21-8 run in the first five minutes which put the Warriors ahead, 58-35, and Hilo could not get closer than 15 points the rest of the way. 

It was a comforting and well-timed boost, and one that typifies Hemsley’s contribution to the program.  

“That’s his DNA, and that needs to continue to be the backbone of who he is as he continues to add to his game,” Ganot said. “You cannot lose sight of that. It’s helped us over the years, and it certainly helped us (against UH Hilo). It’s more important now with this new team, and it’s really important when you’re playing in an empty gym with simulated crowd noise. We better have that pop and physicality and energy from within, and he always (gives) that.”

Hemsley finished last Saturday’s outing with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field, two rebounds and one assist. But more importantly, he brought noticeable energy to a Warriors team that appeared to need the boost. The jolt was a welcome sight, especially considering Hemsley had missed significant practice time the past couple months with nagging injuries.

“It was certainly important during that game, and it will be especially important moving forward as he gets healthier and stronger,” Ganot said. “Now he’ll get more time in the gym, can he continue to improve that skill set and develop that skill set? His shooting has improved, he gets to the (free throw) line, he’s a great rebounder, he wants to play defense. As he gets on the floor, that needs to be a big foundation for him and a big part of his identity, as he helps our identity.

“I’m looking forward to him building off of it.”

For his part, Hemsley says his knack for providing instant energy comes naturally.

“That’s just who I am, that’s just how I approach the game,” Hemsley said. “I just look at it as, ‘Why not go hard?’ You’re not going to get many opportunities, it’s not going to be a forever thing, so why waste time not giving it your all? I do take pride in just going out there and going as hard as I can and making my presence felt because ultimately that’s the goal, to make your presence felt on the basketball court. So I don’t mind all the guys leaning on me for that, because it’s contagious. I don’t mind being that dude that people can look to in that sense. 

“That’s who I am, so I’ll always have that for the team.”

During the Spectrum Sports TV broadcast of last Saturday’s game, color analyst Artie Wilson said he expects this season to be Hemsley’s year to emerge as more than a role player in the supporting cast, and Hemsley said he is ready for that challenge.

“I feel a lot of confidence within myself coming into this year, more than ever before,” Hemsley said. “The past three years that I’ve been here, it was really just more a learning process and just understanding where my place is, just understanding the game and how it works and all that. So I just feel like all that time with me learning and going through adversity, just figuring it out, it’s only right that I use it to my advantage and give all that I can.”
Ganot said that experience will be crucial this season, given the heavy presence of newcomers to the program. 

“He always gives you the familiarity, because he’s an experienced guy on a team that doesn’t have great experience right now,” Ganot said. “And his versatility — his ability to play the ‘3’ or the ‘4’ (position), his defensive effort, his physicality, his energy, he’s worked to improve his shooting. It’s always good to see a guy on your team perform and see the team come together, players get better.

“It’s his fourth year in our program, and I think in each year you expect him to improve,” Ganot said. “He does put a lot of time into the gym. He was one of the guys who had a limited end-of-fall, early practice stretch due to injuries, but you can see the confidence in him getting back to himself. And now with more consistent practices, can he take it up a notch?”

Adding to the need for Hemsley to play a bigger role is the departure of returning forward Samuta Avea, a returning starter who announced just two weeks ago he will opt out of this season for personal reasons.

“There is a sense of feeling that way, but I just bring myself to the team — whatever that is and whatever the team needs from me, I’m always going to make sure I provide that for them in any sense I can,” Hemsley said. “Whether it is leadership on the court, off the court, I look at myself to be that guy, to provide it for the team.”

After opening the season with victories over in-state rivals Hawai’i Pacific and UH Hilo, the Warriors will begin Big West Conference play against visiting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo at 5 p.m. Sunday in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. 

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