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Amis’ unlikely journey powered by perseverance

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Becoming a starter and then a team's star hasn't been easy for UH basketball forward Bill Amis. Everything he's achieved, he's earned.
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Nothing was given to Bill Amis, but much was earned. With interest.

The Hawaii senior forward’s basketball career has been a series of tests, in both ability and resolve. His foot injuries of the past two seasons immediately come to mind, but Amis’ knack for hurdling obstacles goes back much further.

The tri-captain went for 22 points and 12 rebounds in UH’s huge 56-48 win at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, a clear signal that he is past the stress fracture that kept him out of 10 games this season.

His success as a UH player is a product of his year-round work ethic, turning a humble high school reserve into a leader at the Division I level.

Amis, the quintessential late bloomer, recounted his tale with his trademark self-deprecating humor, recalling his ongoing disbelief at the unlikely steps that led him here.

REWIND five years. Amis, a member of the Oklahoma 6A state champion Putnam City Original High School team, was a lanky 6-foot-7, 185-pound bench player who couldn’t sniff more than a handful of minutes on the court, let alone any Division I scholarship offers.

Now at a heftier 6-9 and 235, Amis will be the first to tell you: He simply wasn’t that good. He averaged about five points that year, but he played because several of his good friends were on the team, too, and also because playing sports was what he’d always done.

"At the time, I never would have imagined that I would be playing Division I college basketball, much less starting or getting minutes or anything like that," Amis said. "I just wanted to keep playing if I could, and maybe play junior college and see where it would go from there."

UH BASKETBALL

» Who: Fresno State (7-9, 3-3 WAC) at Hawaii (10-8, 1-5)
» When: 7 p.m., tomorrow
» Where: Stan Sheriff Center
» TV: KFVE
» Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM

He did just enough to gain the attention of Bryatt Vann, a former Putnam City player who went on to play at the University of Oklahoma. Vann, an AAU coach, barely knew Amis, but contacted him immediately after Putnam won the state title, offering his services as a workout partner.

When? Immediately. There was no time to waste; with Amis’ high school career over, he needed to impress someone, and fast.

"I thought he had a lot of potential," Vann said. "He had height (then about 6-7). If he put in the work and the time, then he could really develop his game. He was willing to do that."

In Oklahoma City they worked on all manner of skills — particularly shooting — for nearly 3 hours a day, every day from spring until fall, giving Amis what he’d need to make it to Pratt (Kan.) Community College.

Amis was still a reserve on that team, averaging 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, but he improved enough through his freshman year. He did well enough in a summer camp to attract the attention of former UH associate coach Jackson Wheeler, who offered him a scholarship less than a month before the start of the fall semester.

AMIS REMEMBERS watching UH games of former Rainbow Matt Gibson, who also went to Putnam City. Gibson’s father, Lon, was a teacher there, and would show some of the games.

"I remember thinking like, that’s crazy," Amis said. "I would never end up in Hawaii — ever."

First-year Hawaii coach Gib Arnold and his staff are undoubtedly grateful he was slightly off with that pronouncement. Amis became a starter in Bob Nash’s first year in 2007-08, averaging 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. He’d up that to 10.7 and 6.5 as a junior, and looked poised for a huge senior year last season. But he tore some tissue in his right foot in the preseason and ultimately redshirted, a decision he was grateful for when Arnold came aboard as coach last March.

Rejuvenated and prepared with a second straight summer of training — he participated in the Pete Newell Big Man Camp again — Amis got off to a strong start, averaging more than 15 points and six rebounds through four games. But what would his life be without another challenge? A different foot injury, a stress fracture, knocked him out the next 10 games. This time, he dealt with the frustration by constantly encouraging teammates from the sidelines during practices and games.

When he returned against Idaho on Jan. 6 he understandably struggled, missing the same midrange jumpers that were nearly automatic since he arrived in Manoa. It took him two more games before he would find his groove again.

The LaTech game was his breakthrough, as it was for the team as a whole in picking up its first Western Athletic Conference victory of the season. He nailed shots outside, was strong inside, and took whatever the Bulldogs gave him in shooting 9-for-16. It was his fourth career double-double and first of the season.

"He had a great game," junior guard Zane Johnson said. "He was rebounding and played great defense, which I think started it all for him."

AS FAR as he’s come, his journey isn’t over yet. Amis is considering playing professionally or coaching after his UH career, or going in another direction with his communications degree; he’s put together some short films. He’s all but graduated with just one class left to pass this semester.

He’s continually amazed Vann, whom Amis credits for much of his progress.

"Now am I surprised where he’s at now? Yes, I really am," Vann said. "I didn’t know how much he would develop. But I’m surprised and I’m really proud of Bill."

He isn’t alone in that regard. UH associate coach Walter Roese uses Amis as an example to kids who have doubts about their future in basketball or otherwise.

"Perseverance is something that’s a gift," Roese said. "You have to be patient, you have to keep working. And if you have the dream to play at whatever level, at the varsity or college level, you have to keep pursuing your dreams. And he’s a winner because he got what he’s dreamed for."

 

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