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Monday, September 22, 2014         

RAINBOW BASKETBALL


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Kurtz more than ready to go to the mat for 'Bows

By Brian McInnis

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Douglas Kurtz rolls his eyes, a subtle I-know-where-this-is-going sign from the 7-footer better known for communicating with hard screens and harder fouls.

It's pretty much a consensus among his Hawaii teammates and coaches — the massive Brazilian will someday be a professional wrestler, WWE-style.

"He's going to be the next Undertaker," UH junior guard Zane Johnson said before endorsing the tentative nickname "The Pelotas Pulverizer," coined after Kurtz's hometown.

When the subject of that career choice inevitably comes up, the senior center is amused. Mildly.

"People have been constantly saying that. I don't know, man. I'm trying to play basketball now," Kurtz said, smiling slightly.

Hint taken. When your interviewee, at a chiseled 265 pounds, can dunk you in the rim about as easily as a standard basketball, you tend to move the conversation along.

Kurtz knows what he'll be doing up until about August — working on his degree in sociology. Beyond that, he doesn't know — and doesn't care to know — what the future holds.

He is embracing his dwindling time left with the 13-10 (4-7 Western Athletic Conference) Rainbow Warriors, who play one of just three remaining home games tomorrow against Nevada (10-14, 7-4).

WAC BASKETBALL

» Who: Nevada (10-14, 7-4 WAC) at Hawaii (13-10, 4-7)

» When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

» Where: Stan Sheriff Center

» TV: KFVE, Ch. 5.

» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

 

A coveted combination of height and hulking physique belies his thoughtful nature.

"Life always changes," Kurtz said, demonstrating a defter command of English not seen upon his arrival in Manoa two years ago from Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College. "I would never think to be living in Hawaii right now. I think at some point my life is going to change again. Something I never think about is going to show up. Plans do not work. You make a plan, five years from now you're probably not going to be doing the same thing."

A mature outlook that hasn't been limited to his future. Kurtz has been a model tri-captain by selflessly doing his part — usually in practices — to make his teammates better. Bruises and all.

Hawaii coach Gib Arnold went with a platoon of sorts at center to start the season, with 6-foot-10, 245-pound sophomore Vander Joaquim starting and giving way to Kurtz for stretches.

Those spurts of court time have become increasingly rare for Kurtz, who is averaging 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 9.4 minutes. But that's not due to a slippage of play.

"He's helped us so much, even though it doesn't show (in minutes)," said UH associate coach Walter Roese, who is also coach of the Brazilian junior national team. In a twist of fate, he helped Kurtz get to college in the U.S. years before either of them envisioned coming to UH.

"He leaves everything out there. He competes, he makes everyone else around him better," Roese said. "Vander, a very talented young man, he's getting better because of Doug. I always tell Vander that. 'You have to appreciate that Doug is here.' "

An avid weightlifter in his spare time, Kurtz has put the hurt on many a casual driver in the lane or defensive player stuck on one of his bone-crunching screens.

"I've never gotten hit so hard as on his screens," Johnson said. "He's a big guy, and even when he barely tries to touch you, it hurts. The first day we practiced, he kneed me, and I got a charley horse on my leg."

Fellow team tri-captain Bill Amis noticed right away the shift in Kurtz's demeanor between seasons, when the coaching regimes changed at UH. The Brazilian was a nonfactor last year, but joined Amis in the offseason at the Pete Newell Big Man Camp in Manoa. He shed about 15 pounds before the start of the season, but lost none of his strength.

"I think last year, he was really frustrated, and this year, he's embraced a role as a bruiser, coming in and knocking bodies around. You need him for that," Amis said. "I got some bumps and bruises every day coming from him."

Arnold voiced confidence in Kurtz this week, though he acknowledged opposing bigs who step out for jumpers are a poor matchup for him. That and Joaquim's progress have led to a reserve role.

In the right situation, Kurtz can go to work. In back-to-back nonconference games against Hawaii Pacific and Chicago State, he went for 20 points and 18 rebounds in a combined 45 minutes.

"It's tough for a senior not to play as many minutes as I'm sure he would like to," Arnold said. "He's never taken one day off. He's never done anything but come every day and worked hard."

All comical predictions about wrestling aside, the UH coaches agree he'll be a good fit in the pro basketball ranks, should Kurtz pursue that route.

"I think his best basketball's in front of him," Arnold said. "I think he's going to have a career overseas, because he's got a good work ethic, and he's a good guy, and I think he's going to find the right place for him ... where he can be effective."

Kurtz has given thought to becoming a businessman while he plays pro ball, but his homecoming to Pelotas two years removed from arriving in Hawaii will be reward enough for now.

"I think going back to Brazil speaking another language, with a degree from the U.S., will be an accomplishment in my life and for my family," Kurtz said.

Pressed one last time about the wrestling, he smiled and offered a diplomatic response.

"We'll see."





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