POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 11, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 3:45 a.m. HST, May 11, 2011
You gotta love the name of the University of Hawaii's latest basketball recruit, right? It screams hoops, doesn't it? (It does make me feel older, since guys who are college-age are now named after Big Daddy Shaq.) It's like Tanner Tokunaga, which just sounds like a big-time baseball player's name.
Names are fun, but they don't really mean anything when it comes to how good a prospect's going to turn out.
Now, where a guy is from — to me, that's more relevant. Yes, you might find a surfer in Switzerland or a 7-footer in Micronesia. But your odds are better when you go to the hotbeds of talent.
Stokes is from New York City, specifically, Harlem and Brooklyn. A point guard from NYC is like a shortstop from the Dominican Republic, or a football lineman from Kalihi. They come from precedence and tradition.
Just look at where Stokes goes to high school: Lincoln High, alma mater of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. We're talking big-time. And Stokes received a New York City Player of the Year award at a banquet last night.
Which all begs the question: Why is he coming to Hawaii?
Seems it's a combination of things. We're told Stokes was a late NCAA qualifier academically. Also, UH coach Gib Arnold has good relationships with Stokes' high school and AAU coaches. And at 5-feet-10, Stokes might be a bit small for the Big East schools.
Is Stokes the real deal? Hopefully he cleared his academic hurdles with plenty of room to spare, he'll get into school and we'll get a first-hand look and find out soon.
Arnold's second recruiting class certainly addresses the lack of athleticism issue, and Stokes should battle for playing time at the point right away. But, the thing to remember here is that just because recruits sign a letter of intent and are deemed eligible by the NCAA, it is not a guarantee that they get into UH. For better or worse, admittance to Manoa is not a slam dunk.
The greatest basketball player from UH was from The Big Apple. Tom Henderson was a guard from The Bronx who starred two years for the Rainbows after playing on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team and prior to a solid NBA career. Bob Nash and Anthony Carter are close, but I agree with Artie Wilson that Henderson gets the top spot. Wilson might be biased, since he was Henderson's backcourt mate in 1973 and '74.
He also was his recruiting host.
"I couldn't get a read on him. He was quiet and gruff," said Wilson, now the 'Bows TV analyst. "By the end of the first day, I said, ‘You know what? I’m sick of being nice to you. I don’t care if you come here or not.’ He laughed and said, ‘I like you.’ We got along great after that. He was the toughest, the best, and the easiest to play with.”
Henderson was a solid 6-feet-3 and 225 pounds. Even in the NBA he was known for stout defense.
"I'm not sure people appreciated how good he was," said retired Star-Bulletin sportswriter Dick Couch, who covered UH basketball then. "I don't think of him as flashy, but as a guy with real basketball smarts who played great defense.
"He wasn't the greatest shooter like a Reggie Miller or the greatest passer like a John Stockton. But when you put it all together with his defense, he was the complete package," Couch added. "But people expected him to replace the Fabulous Five all by himself."
Henderson was part of a New York pipeline to UH of players, especially guards that continued into the '80s. Although one of the most acclaimed, Reggie Carter, transfered to St. John's when Hawaii went on probation, they kept coming. Most of them were pretty good, and there was usually a New York presence in the starting backcourt even after UH got back into the NCAA's good graces. Former Chaminade standout Mark Rodrigues helped me recall some of the names from his era: Thomas Louden, Aaron Strayhorn, Tony Webster, Racky Sesler, "Little Joe" Frazier.
Their common trait was toughness.
Not everyone from New York worked out. In 2000, there was a quick little guy named David "Jeep" Hilton who was supposed to become the point guard on those really good Savo-English-Martin teams. That didn't happen.
Where you hail from doesn't guarantee anything, and I still wonder why some of the colleges in his area didn't wait on Shaquille Stokes if he's as good as advertised.
But UH has a good track record with players from New York ... you just have to go back a few decades.