It was practice with a purpose.
Hawaii basketball’s Eran Ganot made the most of his first official practice as a Division I head coach on Friday. The three-hour session came off as organized, disciplined and efficient.
Chants of "One, Two, Three, Team!" echoed often across the empty seats of the Stan Sheriff Center as the Rainbow Warriors convened at center court after every drill to discuss the next.
Shooting drills, defensive halfcourt drills, fast-break drills. Five-on-zero work on a couple of set plays. Five-on-five fullcourt play under the watch of referees to close it out. There was a little of everything.
Yet Ganot wasn’t overly impressed with the outing. After all, there’s a long way to go until the Nov. 13 season opener vs. Montana State. UH can practice 29 more times before then.
"It’s moving in the right direction," said Ganot, a 34-year-old former Saint Mary’s assistant who was hired in April. "We’re still putting in the template of our practice. You’re going from playing to introducing to playing. I think they finished well. We fought through some things."
The content of practice was quite the contrast to last season, when the Rainbow Warriors — though largely successful with a 22-13 season — did it with a freewheeling, loose style under interim coach Benjy Taylor.
"It was way more organized than when we left it last year, with Benjy and Gib (ex-coach Arnold)," said junior swingman Aaron Valdes, last season’s top scorer at 13.7 points per game. "So I liked it. Coach Ganot has us going in the right direction. Guys just working hard out there."
The 15-player roster is comprised of nine active returnees, two players coming off redshirt seasons and four newcomers.
The only player not to participate Friday was senior point guard Roderick Bobbitt, last season’s national steals leader and Big West Defensive Player of the Year, who observed from the sidelines.
Bobbitt suffered a broken jaw in an off-court incident over the summer, though he was expected to be available around the start of full practices. Ganot said Bobbitt is "day to day."
Ganot eschewed a "midnight ohana"-type of season kickoff event and tried to keep his team focused on the court coming off the team workouts of the last few weeks. And the focus was there. He raised his voice only a couple of times, but each time he did the response was immediate.
"The most reasonable expectation we have of this team … is to be obsessed with getting better," Ganot said. "To be obsessed with the process and the journey. But some of those, you need to have some struggles. Those are great teaching moments."
Ganot said the referees were there in part to help UH sort through some of the NCAA’s most recent rule changes. Those include the reduction of the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30, an expanded restricted area under the basket, and no timeouts for coaches while the ball is live.
Junior forward Stefan Jankovic was the recipient of Ganot’s ire early during the practice for not going strong to his post moves. The 6-foot-11 Jankovic — who thrived largely on the perimeter last season — accepted the criticism and came back later in practice with an emphatic one-handed tip dunk.
"I gotta bring it every day. He challenged me, that’s what he’s supposed to do," Jankovic said. "Every great player, every player in general, if you want to get better you can’t have someone who’s just telling you, ‘Oh, you’re the best,’ this and that. And I responded well."
Assistants Adam Jacobsen and Chris Acker were given free rein to address the team loudly throughout. The newest assistant, John Montgomery, was hired just a few days ago. Ganot said he has vocal license, too, and will use it once acclimated.
Ganot has stressed the importance of shooting in his system. At various points during practice, the emphasis was apparent. Everyone — guards and bigs alike — hoisted from long range.
That was just fine to Jankovic (10.6 ppg last year), who compared the practice favorably to last season.
"You could say night and day," he said. "It just feels more like a basketball team, more organized, we have a full team of 15 guys, we have a full coaching staff. We have the same core group of guys that were motivated last year and played their butts off and played hard. So it’s just a beautiful thing right now. We’re just embracing the opportunity we have and first practice of many, so we’re excited."