The smallest player on the Stan Sheriff Center court last night stood the tallest.
In a land of towering giants, 5-foot, 9-inch Miah Ostrowski had the most imposing presence in both deed and heart.
Three days removed from the death of his father, Damian "Kui" Ostrowski, Miah the reserve point guard nearly led the University of Hawaii to a stunning upset of Utah State.
That the Rainbow Warriors came up oh so short of ending the Aggies’ 14-game winning streak, 89-84 in double overtime last night, did nothing to diminish the performance of this reserve point guard turned inspirational leader who stirred his teammates as much as the raucous crowd of about 8,000.
Hours after the death of his father Wednesday, Ostrowski was asked by head coach Gib Arnold if he wanted to take some time off to be with his family and grieve. You suspect Arnold knew the answer all along, but out of respect had to ask. For nobody who has watched the Ostrowski clan on the courts over the years expected the answer other than the one the coach got.
Thanks, but he would play on for his greatest fan.
He would step out there the way his father had taught him and, indeed, the way his dad would have likely wanted with a 38-minute effort that came from the soul. It was a performance, including three steals and six assists against just two turnovers, that spoke of passion and resilience yes, but also a keen attention-to-detail focus. So much emotion but so much instinct, too.
The kind that strangers who have become fans will remember for years.
Ostrowski, barely a month removed from playing for the Warriors’ football team, scored 15 points — more than the sum total of his eight previous games for UH — to keep the ‘Bows in a game they threatened to fall out of on several occasions.
And in most of them, or so it seemed, No. 11 streaked in to score a basket, take a charge or make a defensive play that somehow kept them in it.
"Miah played great and made great plays," Arnold said afterward. " He brought us back into the game."
Remarkably, Ostrowski played the last 19 minutes and 16 seconds with four fouls. Yet, Arnold stuck with Ostrowski at point guard even as senior Hiram Thompson rode the bench. And the ‘Bows looked to him time and again for a spark. For Ostrowski’s speed and daring were something even the deeper Aggies had no answer for.
At one point, junior Zane Johnson, as if reading the team’s — not to mention the fan’s — minds, reached over and slapped him on the back, as if to say thanks for keeping us going; don’t stop.
And Ostrowski, wiping away the sweat, didn’t until the final horn.
When it was all over except for the disappointment and Ostrowski made his way toward the tunnel leading to the dressing room, fans rose and gave him much deserved applause. Those who could reach him extended warm, caring pats on the back.
It would symbolize the 8,000-strong group hug they had wanted to give him.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.