If you have to have injuries — and you do, you always do — you want them early in the season. In college basketball, that usually means getting healthy before the turn of the New Year and the start of conference play.
This year, however, WAC play started before 2011 did. If it hadn’t, Hawaii might have started better than 0-2. It might have gotten off the road schneid and won at Utah State and/or at Nevada.
It would be Happy New Year, Rainbow Warrior fans.
But the glue of this UH team, senior forward Bill Amis, was still recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. And that made winning at the mountain lairs of two of the league’s more talented teams an even tougher proposition than usual.
"He did some aggressive rehab. Maybe we could’ve snuck him back early," coach Gib Arnold said after yesterday’s practice. "But I think he has a career in pro basketball ahead of him. I think he can make some money playing basketball and I didn’t want to risk him reinjuring his foot and making it worse."
There are at least two other good reasons for holding out Amis last week on the road. They are Vander Joaquim and Trevor Wiseman. Arnold said the extended minutes for Joaquim, a sophomore post player, and Wiseman, a freshman forward, will pay off down the road … maybe on the road as these young players now know what it’s like to perform at altitude in front of a hostile crowd. "Those guys got good experience," Arnold said. "The positive side of it is maybe we gain a couple of wins back later because of that."
AMIS WAS BACK to his old self yesterday at practice. Running, dunking, shooting, rebounding — he was the life of the 2-hour sauna session at the Stan Sheriff Center as the Rainbows prepped for tonight’s home conference opener against Idaho.
"I feel good, I’m just trying to get a rhythm again," said Amis, who was with the team last week. "It was hard watching the Nevada game. Utah we fought all the way, down just a couple of points near the end. That’s where you want to be on the road."
Yes, UH battled hard against the Aggies, widely considered the class of the conference. Pulling it out would have been huge. Losing a close one at the end made it hard to bounce back at Nevada. After the 86-69 loss at Reno, Arnold did something he hadn’t previously: He questioned the team’s energy level.
"For the first time we played tired," he said yesterday. "Yes, someone pointed out it was our fifth game in nine days. And it was at high altitude. Those things go into it. But our job is to play through fatigue. We were disappointed. I think we didn’t leave it all out there (at Nevada)."
THE RAINBOWS are all healthy now. Amis is ready, guard Bobby Miles is a couple of wisdom teeth lighter, but practiced yesterday. Even senior point guard Hiram Thompson says he’s all good, all moving parts working properly. His back is still a little sore, but we’re approaching that part of the season where everybody has some aches and pains — and if we know one thing about Thompson, it’s that he’ll play through pain.
So will Amis, and he’s vital to this team’s success; he missed all of last season with a different foot injury and UH would have definitely been better than 10-20 with him. This season Hawaii started 4-0 with Amis and went 5-5 in the 10 games he missed. Although Arnold said he doesn’t know how many of those losses might have been wins with Amis, he offered that, "We are a better team with him. … Our best player and most valuable player."
One way he makes UH better that can go unnoticed is that his presence allows Joston Thomas to play his natural small forward spot. "I’m more versatile at the three, more variety in my game from there. Bill helps us a lot in our rebounding," Thomas said. "Our last two games we didn’t rebound well. I’m just happy we’ve got everybody back. It gives us a burst of energy."
It would have been nice to have Amis back for the start of conference action. But sometimes the calendar just doesn’t cooperate. "It’s a 4-to-6 week injury," Amis said. "I was out six weeks."
More injuries are inevitable for Hawaii, but everybody’s fit now and the team’s at home. Time to rack up wins.