All the football conditioning in the world couldn’t prepare Miah Ostrowski for a one-on-one workout with Hawaii basketball coach Gib Arnold.
This was back in early December, when the former Punahou point guard made a long-awaited crossover from the UH football team to play basketball as well.
Before Ostrowski’s remarkable ascent to starting point guard for the Rainbow Warriors — he gets the nod for the seventh time this season when the Rainbows take on San Francisco in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament tomorrow — he was nearly sent back with a "thanks, but no thanks" from Arnold.
The first private workout between first-year coach and player didn’t go so well. Ostrowski, a slotback fresh off the Warriors’ 10-3 football regular season, was not used to the constant motion required of basketball conditioning. He was asked to do all manner of jumpers, drives and sprints in rapid succession. Before long, he sucked wind.
"He stopped and he left the floor (mid-workout). And I was like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ " Arnold recalled with a laugh. "And he said, ‘Coach, I just didn’t want to throw up on your floor.’ I joked about it, said, ‘Miah, we’re not going to be able to huddle up 30 seconds after every play to get you rested. You gotta get some basketball legs on you.’ "
Ostrowski, a four-time all-state hoops selection who came to UH on a football scholarship, can also laugh about it now. The junior hadn’t played ball in any official capacity since graduating in 2007. Anyone would suffer after stepping away from the game for that long.
"I don’t know what kind of impression he got of me off of that, but I know it wasn’t a good one, right off the bat," Ostrowski said. "I was like, ‘Oh, I hope it’s not a long season.’ "
But thanks in large part to Ostrowski, it is. The midseason addition scored a career-high 17 points in a defeat of Portland on Tuesday, including 12 big ones in the second half, to help get UH past the CIT first round. Hawaii (19-12) is one of 84 teams still playing in the postseason as of this morning.
After the rugged first workout, Ostrowski had a better showing in a second one and regained his conditioning by early in Western Athletic Conference play, first by helping senior Hiram Thompson in spot minutes off the bench.
The manner in which he darts and flits about the court, not unlike a dragonfly, has given UH an extra gear it lacked. Basketball, at the most basic level, is a game of beating your opponent to prime position on the court, and suddenly the Rainbows had their 5-foot-8 weapon to do so.
"He’s meant everything. We couldn’t be here without him," said junior guard Zane Johnson. "He’s doing a really good job now of noticing when to make the dribble-drives and when to take his shots. When he drives my side most of the time, they’re not going to leave (me). He’s gotta make those layups, which he’s done, and he’s done a great job of it."
His open-court steal and alley-oop lob to Joston Thomas at Louisiana Tech is widely credited — along with a full return from injury for senior forward Bill Amis — for sealing UH’s first WAC victory of the season and starting a run of eight wins in the Rainbows’ final 11 regular-season games.
Perhaps his most memorable moment of the season was in a double-overtime loss at home to Utah State on Jan. 29, just a few days after his father, Kui Ostrowski, died of heart failure. Miah, determined to be strong for his mother and two sisters, nearly willed UH to an upset win with 15 points and six assists.
Two weeks later, the Aiea native hit the game-winning floaters in a tight game against Nevada, cementing his status as a local hero in the face of tragedy. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.06 would qualify among the WAC leaders had Ostrowski played the whole season.
Local-born players have rarely had prominent roles in UH basketball, but Ostrowski doesn’t consider himself a role model for youngsters in Hawaii.
"No, I don’t see that at all. If it is (true), then I think that’s real crazy," he said. "I just feel like I’m a kid still, and when I’m out there, I’m having fun."
He credits the UH coaches, Thompson and backup point Bobby Miles as the reasons he was able to integrate so successfully with the team. For his burst and lethal first step, he thanked the current and former UH football strength coordinators, Tommy Heffernan and Mel DeLaura.
Ostrowski, who was invited for those initial workouts with Arnold around the same time two reserve guards left the program, has played heavy minutes lately because of injuries to both Thompson and Miles. He is content to sum up everything that’s happened since December in one word: "Crazy."
When UH’s run ends this spring, either with a CIT championship or a loss chasing it, it’s back to sanity and football for Ostrowski — until December, for one last midseason go-round in hoops as a senior.
Arnold eagerly awaits that moment.
"I think we’re a better team with him, no doubt about it," he said.
CIT second round
>> Who: San Francisco (18-14) at Hawaii
>> When: 7 p.m. tomorrow
>> TV: OC 16*
>> Radio: KKEA, 1420-AM
* pending official announcement from UH