The Hawaii men’s basketball players got the crowd warmed up with a spirited haka dance.
Then Gib Arnold brought the house down with one of his own.
Arnold and his shirtless coaching staff donned Polynesian garb and had the Stan Sheriff Center erupting with a wild performance on the center "H" during the UH Ohana Hoopfest last night.
The festivities were held for the official start of men’s basketball practices across the country. Locally, it was the first look at a totally transformed team for most of the roughly 4,000 in attendance.
It was a pretty good look. The Rainbow Warriors had to sweat out their first full practice at Gym 2, then took to the Sheriff court soon afterward for their version of midnight madness — but had plenty of energy left.
After their haka, the new-look Rainbow Warriors played with and against celebrities in a lighthearted 15-minute game. But the coaches’ dance was definitely the highlight, and the UH players ate it up from the bench.
"I don’t know if we can win any games, but we can dance," Arnold told the crowd.
Earlier Arnold, the first-year head coach, pressed his team hard for the duration of their regular practice in sweltering Gym 2, putting the players through myriad halfcourt sets and defensive rotations.
Arnold didn’t hesitate to get after the group, including the 10 newcomers, if anyone took a play off.
Over the past month, the Rainbows went through workouts in groups of four with the coaches and open gym sessions amongst themselves. Yesterday marked an increased instruction workload that will continue through the opening exhibition vs. Chaminade on Nov. 6.
The players thought they responded well.
"We were working hard last year (at this time) as well, but it’s just different intensity level, and it’s good," said senior forward Bill Amis, one of four players on the roster last year. "If we’d have come in here and tried to work like this two and a half months ago, we’d have been dead in 30 minutes. But we’re all mentally into it the whole practice, and that’s probably the most important part of it. We’re conditioned to where our minds can stay through it now."
Point guard Bobby Miles is one of four true freshmen on the roster. The Workman (Calif.) High graduate was pumped to get on with the night’s main event after surviving his first Division I practice with a smile on his face.
"Main difference is the speed," he said. "Everyone’s a little tougher. I got a little stronger, a little faster. I should be OK."
As for the haka, he said, "Oh yeah, we got it down." And they did.
The Hawaii women’s basketball team also performed a dance and played a celebrity game.
Recruits take in Hoopfest
The Hoopfest doubled as a recruiting tool for two prospective Rainbow Warriors on an official visit to UH this weekend.
DeShawn Stephens, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound sophomore at Santa Monica (Calif.) College, and Ronnie Stevens, a 6-foot-9, 215-pound senior at Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., watched the team’s first full practice and the late-night festivities at the Sheriff. Both were impressed with the vibe of the islands.
"So far the experience has been great," Stephens said. "People are nice everywhere around town. Kinda scary, but it’s an nice experience. The city’s beautiful."
Stephens said he wants to decide from among UH, Utah State, San Diego State and Long Beach State by Tuesday. Stevens plans to take at least one more recruiting trip, to Cal State Northridge.
"If I can play or not is the main thing; I don’t just want to go to a big-name school," Stevens said. "All the people are very friendly."
They’ll be at the UH football game vs. Nevada today at Aloha Stadium.
A third prospect, 6-foot-7, 230-pound senior forward Damiene Cain of Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) School, was slated to make a visit this weekend but canceled at the last moment.