Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

Warriors return with familiarity — and ‘hunger’ 

Freshly printed 2022-23 rosters — with individual pictures of each player — were made available to the media at last Friday afternoon’s first official University of Hawai’i men’s basketball practice. But unlike in most recent years, the one-page “cheat sheet” wasn’t totally necessary this time around.

With 10 returnees, plus a very familiar face as new graduate assistant joining the coaching staff, it was not exactly “Howdy Doody Time” at Gym II and the “Hello, my name is …” tags could stay in the drawer.

“Ten returners … we haven’t had that (many) since I’ve been here,” said senior wing Samuta Avea, who took a medical redshirt last season and is in his sixth-year with the program. “So me coming back, I’m just trying to add to it. Same with Juan (Munoz). We like what they did (last season), but with us coming back, we can add a lot. It’ll be fun to do.”

Munoz, a redshirt freshman guard, also sat out last season due to injury but is back fully recovered. Avea sat out Friday’s practice, but said it was due to minor bumps and bruises and not related to his 2021 injury.

Power forward Jerome Desrosiers, who applied to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility due to the Ivy League canceling the 2020-21 season when he was at Princeton, was denied the fifth year but recently joined the UH staff as a graduate assistant and is pursuing his Masters Degree.

“It was weird to be finally done with (playing) college basketball, (a) bittersweet moment for sure,” Desrosiers said. “I was hoping to get an extra year back, but when I talked to Coach (Eran) Ganot, the (coaching) opportunity came up and I had to jump on it. It’s good to be with the guys and stick around for another year.”

The UH program made some strides last season, with its highest regular season league finish (third place) and first Big West Tournament victory since winning the championship in 2016. But Ganot’s parting words after the semifinal loss to Cal State Fullerton in Henderson, Nev., stated that the Warriors want even greater success in 2022-23.

“We want to get to the mountain top, and usually you have to take some steps and go through some growing pains and some ups and downs and adversity,” Ganot said Friday. “There’s a lot of people (here) who have done just that. Last year, we said, ‘We need to make a jump,’ then we lost some guys (to injury). And we still did (make the jump), with that. This year, we don’t want to (just) do the same; we want to make one big breakthrough to get to where we want to be again.”

Ganot and returning co-captain Kamaka Hepa said the team embraced that challenge in the offseason, and are entering this season “hungry” for more victories and a deeper run into the postseason.

“I woke up this morning with chills, just because this is my last year of college basketball and being able to do it with these guys is phenomenal, and I’m very excited,” said Hepa, a senior forward who transferred last year from Texas. “I just really can’t wait to get started. It’s something we talked about since the end of last year, kind of going into spring workouts in April, bleeding into the summertime and bleeding into the fall. That’s something that hasn’t left our hearts, I think, is our want to be really great. Regardless of who we’re playing, regardless of circumstances … one thing our team is focused on is, we want to exceed our full potential.”   

On paper, at least, that potential is promising.

Aside from Desroisiers, who was the starting power forward and filled in at center a few games due to injuries, center Mate Colina, who graduated, and guard Junior Madut, who pursued professional basketball, the Warriors return every player who saw action last season. UH also added some talented recruits who figure to contribute right away, in addition to Avea and Munoz.

“We can feel that already,” Ganot said of this group’s potential. “We said at the time (Avea and Munoz were injured) it was hard, you lose two significant players (early) and then Noel (Coleman) at the end of the year, and we still took a step. And what that does is, the guys who had to be thrown into the fire are definitely better than they would have been, and the guys who were out, are back. So we’re now finding that chemistry and guys are competing for spots … It’s very exciting.”

The Warriors will continue with fall practice until playing host to UH-Hilo in an exhibition game on Nov. 3 at the Stan Sheriff Center.

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