Warriors open with ‘fiery’ first practice

By Wes Nakama

Under the direction of ninth-year head coach Eran Ganot, UH players go at “game speed” during a motion offense drill Thursday. (photo by Wes Nakama)

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team held its first official practice of the 2023-24 season Thursday afternoon, but the players’ intensity definitely had a mid- or even postseason vibe to it.

Drills — whether one-on-one, 3-on-3 or without defense — were run at game speed. Blocked shots and defensive stops were celebrated as if the empty Gym 2 was packed with cheering fans. Senior guard Noel Coleman, a three-year letterman, hit the floor twice diving after loose balls.

There even was some “chippy” not-so-friendly trash talk being exchanged during water breaks.

“Fiery practice,” is how ninth-year head coach Eran Ganot described it shortly after the almost three-hour workout finally ended around 6 p.m.

But then, that’s not a bad thing for a team that hopes to improve on last season’s 22-11 record and first-round Big West Tournament exit.

“For sure, I think our guys definitely showed their competitive edge,” said Coleman, who was a second-team All-Big West selection in 2022. “We’ve been talking about ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and I think it definitely showed today. White (jerseys) made Green better, and Green made White better, and that’s what we need.”

The “Green” unit consisted of guards Coleman, JoVon McClanahan, Ryan Rapp and Matthue Cotton, forwards Harry Rouhliadeff and Akira Jacobs, and center Bernardo da Silva. The “White” squad included guards Juan Munoz, Kody Williams, Tom Beattie and Logan Robeson, forwards Justin McKoy and Matija Svetozarevic, and center Mor Seck.

Ganot said prior to practice that there would be competition for starting spots at several positions, and many times during the live scrimmage portion, it appeared those battles have already started.

“We have nine returners … we feel good about who we have coming back, and who we have coming in, and we don’t play (a game) for a little bit so we can make another jump still,” Ganot said. “I think there’s a lot of good battles right now. It makes us feel like maybe we’ll have the best backup at some positions in our league, depending on who wins the starting spot.”

One battle that waged early last year was between point guards Munoz and McClanahan. Munoz started the first exhibition game against UH-Hilo, but injured his achilles tendon in the second half of that game and was sidelined the entire season.

On Thursday, he said he feels about “90 to 95 percent” recovered, after a lengthy and cautious rehabilitation process.

“I’m super excited, I’m blessed to get another opportunity at this, I wouldn’t want it any other way,” said Munoz, a graduate super senior who was awarded a rare eighth season after using a redshirt year, a COVID bonus season and two medical exemptions. “I know guys are excited, our chemistry’s pretty good, guys love playing basketball with each other. The sky’s the limit. I just started playing five-on-five maybe a week and a half, couple weeks ago, so I’m just taking it day-by-day. My body feels good, my movement feels good, so I have no complaints.”

Munoz’s housemate and former high school teammate, North Carolina graduate transfer McKoy, is the Warriors’ highest profile newcomer. A 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward, McKoy started four games for a Virginia team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title in 2021, then transferred to North Carolina where he appeared in 30 games during the Tar Heels’ NCAA runner-up season of 2021-22.

“He’s a high-level shooter, he reminds me of Kamaka (Hepa),” Munoz said, referring to the recently graduated 6-10 forward who led the Warriors with 67 made 3-pointers last season.

McKoy, for his part, said he is impressed with what he has experienced with UH so far.

“I would say that this culture here, that Coach Ganot has established, is already a winning culture,” McKoy said. “They do it all, everything the right way. Whether that shows up in conference tournament championships or not, they have a very healthy culture. I’ve been in other programs, seen a lot of programs, and this is a really well-run program.”

Practices will continue Friday and Saturday, and into next week.

The team’s first public appearance will be in a charity exhibition game against Saint Mary’s on Oct. 20 in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. Tickets are on sale now, with proceeds going toward Maui wildfire relief efforts. For more information, go to eTicketHawaii.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Theme Blog Explorer by Kantipur Themes