A show of hands, please, from all those who believed in October that the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team would go into its final regular-season game with a chance at flip-flopping last year’s 10-20 record to 20-10.
Not many to be found, are there?
Yet, as the Rainbow Warriors play at Fresno State tonight, a 20-win season is no longer a blue moon fantasy but something coming within reach.
The ‘Bows, 18-10 after outlasting San Jose State on Thursday night, would have to beat the Bulldogs tonight and then win their opening game of next week’s Western Athletic Conference tournament. Hardly automatic, but definitely in the realm of do-able for a team that continues to expand its definition of what’s possible.
That we are even able to explore such a scenario is testament to how remarkable the turnaround has been. Lest we forget the past, not only had UH not managed a winning season in three years, it didn’t even make the WAC tournament last year. Thus removing the possibility of a fifth consecutive first-round exit.
Few expected them to need a ticket for Las Vegas, site of the WAC tournament, this year, either. UH was the unanimous pick of coaches, media, preseason magazines and palm readers to finish dead last.
As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz observed at Gib Arnold’s hiring last March, "No new coach among the carousel that is still spinning may have as difficult of a rebuilding job as Arnold. As for moving up in the WAC? Well, it’s a goal — but something more long-term than short-term."
And that was before two players, Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman, quit and two mainstays, Bill Amis and Hiram Thompson, got hurt, missing a combined total of 14 games to date.
Who knew one of the secrets to turning things around would be securing the post-Christmas services of a 5-foot, 9-inch slotback to run point?
But, as guard Miah Ostrowski’s 10 assists and five rebounds Thursday night highlighted, he has been a difference maker and inspiration if not an answer to UH’s prayers. Throw in the contributions of 3-point specialist Zane Johnson, who sat out a transfer year last season, and the nightly emergence of center Vander Joaquim and somehow they’ve found a chemistry on the run.
Their coach, who was looking for answers at 0-5 in the WAC on Jan. 13, has worked a form of alchemy worthy of WAC coach of the year consideration. Though that honor will likely be voted to Utah State’s Stew Morrill by the coaches.
History tells us the biggest turnaround in UH hoops was the vault from 4-25 in Riley Wallace’s first season (1987-88) to 17-13 in his second (1988-89).
To be sure, this edition of the Rainbow Warriors has benefited from an abuser-friendly nonconference schedule that was meant to be a job-saver for the previous administration. And they’ve gotten some breaks along the way.
But these ‘Bows have capitalized on them, made some of their own and toughened up in prime time to the point where it is difficult to cite examples of many games they should have won that slipped away.
That, as much as anything, speaks loudest to the turnaround. This time last year UH was ending its season in a tailspin of 11 losses in the final 12 games. This go-around, the ‘Bows have won nine of the last 11.
From 10-20 to 20-10 in 12 months? These days that is a bet a whole lot of people would take.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com