Gib Arnold finally had an answer to an often-asked question during his first year as Hawaii men’s basketball head coach.
As his Rainbow Warriors continued to exceed expectations on their way to a 19-13 season, Arnold was increasingly queried if the team had met the goals he laid out for it. Only at the end, when San Francisco came from behind to beat UH in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament second round on Saturday night, was he comfortable responding.
"Big picture, great year. Great group of guys. They gave Hawaii everything they got, and I think we represented the islands well, and that was our main goal. The only goal was we wanted to play hard every game and every practice," Arnold said.
"Our three main things we talk about are being relentless in everything we do, being all in together and playing like champions. And we accomplished those goals. People ask me if I feel like I’ve reached your goals, I’d say definitely. We reached all three of those, and this group of guys has every right to be proud of what we did this year."
The team’s season-ending, late-game collapse in the 77-74 loss to USF may still be fresh in the minds of UH basketball fans, but the 2010-11 season was still one to celebrate as a strong start for a new regime and UH’s first postseason appearance since 2004.
Arnold imbued a struggling program with his brand of high-intensity, high-energy leadership, and through sheer force of will brought about a change in identity from the three straight losing seasons that preceded him.
Few predicted such success for the Rainbows, who were coming off a 10-20 season and had only two experienced players, seniors Bill Amis and Hiram Thompson, back in action.
The Rainbows were often at a disadvantage athletically, but made up for it with an effective team defensive concept. They worked extensively on it every practice, which helped earn a defensive field-goal percentage of .389, eighth-best in the country.
Several key additions also infused the team with new life. Arizona transfer Zane Johnson, who emerged from his redshirt year focused, went on to lead the team in scoring and break the UH single-season record for 3-pointers. The junior’s 98 edged Michael Kuebler’s 97 set in 2004.
UH has its center of the future in sophomore Vander Joaquim, whose improvement throughout the season astonished many; by the end, he was good for nearly a double-double on a given night. Freshman forward Trevor Wiseman carved out a niche as an important energy player and defender. Sophomore forward Joston Thomas and freshman guards Bobby Miles and Bo Barnes also had strong moments.
Arnold realized his team was a good one after a 9-3 record in nonconference play, including wins over Utah and Mississippi State in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic.
The road back to respectability wasn’t a smooth one. UH overcame plenty of adversity along the way, including defections of reserve guards Anthony Salter and Jordan Coleman in early December. With the team robbed of depth and Amis out with a foot injury, the team hit a wall. Its 0-5 start in WAC play raised fears UH would meet its preseason poll predictions for a last-place finish.
Fortunately for the program, Miah Ostrowski, the UH football slotback out of Punahou, agreed to join the team and emerged as the starting point guard when Thompson suffered a season-ending elbow injury midway through the WAC campaign.
Coupled with the healthy return of Amis from a 10-game injury absence, UH had its horses for a strong stretch run. The Rainbows won eight of their final 11 WAC regular-season games to claim the fifth seed in the WAC tournament at Las Vegas.
They were stunned in the first round by eighth-seeded San Jose State, but the season wasn’t over. UH’s resilience and body of work — including road wins at Louisiana Tech, Boise State and SJSU — warranted an invitation to the CIT. Amis, UH’s best all-around player, who averaged 15.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks, was named to the All-WAC second team.
"Give this whole team credit, from the redshirts who weren’t playing to the all-conference player, Bill, and especially the seniors. They brought it every day. I’ve got nothing but great things when I think of this group," Arnold said.
UH loses its tri-captains Amis, Thompson and center Douglas Kurtz to graduation. In particular, Amis’ steadiness will be missed.
Including fall signees Ronnie Stevens and Gerry Blakes, Arnold has three scholarships to hand out for the spring signing period starting April 13. Point guard is a position of need, considering Ostrowski cannot rejoin the basketball team until the conclusion of football in December.