Expectations weren’t high for the 2018 Rainbow Warrior basketball at the start of the season. After all, the ‘Bows were coming off a tumultuous 2017 season that ended with a 14-16 record.
But Eran Ganot’s squad fought through adversity despite the odds stacked against them and finished with a 17-13 record this season, including 13-7 record at the Stan Sheriff Center. Despite crashing out of the Big West Conference tournament in the first round in a heartbreaking loss to UC Irvine, the Warriors’ season should not be seen as a disappointment by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead, the 2018 season will be looked back on as a building block for the future of the program.
It’s easy to forget that Hawaii lost its entire-starting five two years ago after winning the Big West title and defeating California in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s also easy to forget that key role players, such as Stefan Jovanovic, left the program for greener pastures as the NCAA investigation into the team hung over their heads for the better part of a year.
Ganot had to rely on the play of transfer players such as Gibson Johnson and Jack Purchase - two formidable basketball players who fit into the program like a glove. But because of limitations on scholarships, it was difficult for Ganot to recruit the way he would’ve likened to over the past year and a half.
Looking at the team’s current roster, there is reason to look forward to next season despite the team not playing in this year’s NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Sheriff Drammeh, who averaged 10.7 points per game this season, made a leap in junior season as a capable two-way player and still has another full season to play for the Warriors. Drew Buggs became an essential part of the Warrior offense as a freshman, and will build off a rookie season that saw him break the freshman record for most steals in program history on top scoring 8.1 points per game to go along with 3.4 assists.
The always reliable Brocke Stepteau, who became a go-to option on offense this season and on clutch possessions, will also have another year to play for Hawaii after averaging 9.5 points per game while shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range.
The aforementioned Jack Purchase was named the Big West Sixth Man of the Year for the conference’s best player off the bench and -- you guessed it -- has another year of eligibility remaining.
As of this moment, the only players leaving the Warrior program are Mike Thomas, Zach Buscher and Gibson Johnson due to graduation.
"I can't say enough about our senior class. We were dealt a haymaker as a program. They got us back and got us back quick. If anyone doesn’t appreciate that they’re crazy.These guys are studs and I can’t thank them enough.”— HAWAII BASKETBALL (@HawaiiMBB) March 9, 2018
HC @EranGanot on #HawaiiMBB's @prodby_MT and @gibsonj21 pic.twitter.com/rNx3iMO71Y
The future is bright with players like Samuta Avea, Brandon Thomas and Leland Green stepping into increased roles next season, with each player having at least two more years to play. The Warriors will receive a much-needed boost on the depth chart with three big men: 6-foot-11 Australians Mate Colina and Owen Hulland and a 7-footer in Dawson Carper.
The Warriors will be a much more competitive team next season, so don’t count out the ‘Bows from returning to postseason play just yet.
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