Warrior Insider

The Inside Source for Hawaii Men's Basketball

‘Super Senior’ Munoz has been super inspiring

Rather than live a life of “What if,” University of Hawai’i men’s basketball senior Juan Munoz has lived a season of “Still can.”

Maybe not in the sense of “still can play” — Munoz has been out of action since early November due to a ruptured Achilles tendon — but certainly in the sense of “still can lead and help.”

“The biggest thing I learned about myself is just that I never really give up on anything,” said Munoz, who also missed the entire season in 2021-2022 due to injury after transferring from Longwood University. “Once I put my mind to something, I know I am going to achieve it and see it through. So with all the adversity I’ve dealt with the past year, every day with my rehab, my workouts … I’m never going to give up.”

That example of can-do attitude and always-positive spirit has made Munoz a leader and huge inspiration for the Warriors the past two seasons, and why he will be honored and cherished the same as UH co-captains Samuta Avea and Kamaka Hepa during Saturday’s “Senior Night” festivities following the 5 p.m. ESPN2 showdown with UC Irvine in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.

The Warriors (20-9 overall, 11-6 in the Big West Conference) are tied with Cal State Fullerton for fourth place in the league standings, while the Anteaters sit alone in first at 20-9, 13-4. The game is designated a “White-Out,” with fans asked to wear white, and also became an official sellout Friday. 

Hawai’i is coming off a heartbreaking 54-52 home defeat to UC Riverside on Thursday, but Warriors coach Eran Ganot expects his team to bounce back, as it often does.

“We’re 7-1 after a loss, that’s not easy to do, that’s a great quality,” Ganot said. “They’ll be ready to go. We brought in competitors, this is a high-character group. So I think we’re going to do what we need to do to be professional. We have a good group of guys, really good. I’m not worried about that.”

Much of that confidence comes from the senior leadership of Avea, Hepa and Munoz. And while Avea and Hepa have been solid leaders on the court, each starting all 29 games so far, Munoz has done it by example off the court and from the bench after being lost for the season with the injury suffered in the second half of an exhibition game against UH-Hilo on Nov. 3.

While on crutches, wearing a boot, and then going through physical therapy and rehab, Munoz was always around the team and at every home game on the bench, leading the cheers and offering guidance and observation. He was in team meetings, watching film and going over scout and prep.

Prior to one recent practice in SimpliFi Arena, Munoz was seen shooting — and making — 3-pointers for about 10 minutes straight. His percentage had to be at least 60 or 65 percent, despite being sidelined for a couple months after suffering the injury.

But Munoz said a return to the court for game action this season is still highly unlikely.

“Just the way my rehab is going — I’ve been putting a lot of work in, but this injury is something you just gotta be careful with and take day-by-day,” Munoz said on Tuesday. “So I’m not poutting too much thought into that (returning to action) right now.” 

In that exhibition game versus Hilo, Munoz scored 13 of his 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range, and also dazzled the crowd with some nifty ball-handling and quick drives to the basket. 

“He was tremendous,” Ganot said after that game. “To see what he is capable of … he is a player. He’s a great shooter, he’s got a great feel, he studies the film, he loves the game, he’s got good handles, he’s tough on ball screen. And one of the more underrated things about him is his ability to anticipate, he thinks ahead. And he’s a gamer. He’s fun to watch, he’s fun to play with, he’s fun to be around. We think the world of him.”

That last part is still true after the injury, perhaps even more so by seeing how Munoz handled it.

“I don’t know anyone who has been as influential in terms of what we’re doing, without playing a game, as Juan Munoz has been,” Ganot said. “It’s because of his attitude, his character … he has shown that at the highest level. There’s no one with a better attitude, and you can see it — we all have been felt by his influence. Our guys know it, our staff knows it, and people who have been fortunate to get to know him, know it.”

For his part, Munoz is grateful for the unwavering support he received from his teammates and coaches.

“With that injury taking me down, I just had to find another way to stay positive, and that was through my teammates and my coaches,” Munoz said. “They were really there for me every day, just making sure my mental was good, my physical was good. I really appreciate them for that.”

Senior Night is always about appreciation, and Ganot said this one — with a sellout crowd of almost 10,000, in front of a primetime national TV audience on ESPN2, against the first-place team — has a chance to be more special than most.

“Our guys deserve a packed house, the fans deserve it, the state deserves it, and we’ll bounce back,” Ganot said. “We’re looking forward to a great challenge.”

HAWAI’I (20-9 overall, 11-6 Big West) vs. UC IRVINE (20-9, 13-4)
Saturday, February 25, 5:00 p.m.
Where: SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center
Tickets: eTicketHawaii.com
Video Streaming: ESPN+
Radio/Audio streaming: ESPN Honolulu (92.7 FM, 1420 AM, espnhonolulu.com, Sideline Hawaii app)

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