Warriors open ’23-’24 season vs. UH Hilo

Senior guard and co-captain Noel Coleman will help lead the Warriors in Tuesday’s season opener versus intrastate rival Hawai’i-Hilo in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. (photo courtesy Brandon Flores Photography)

Better late than never … the University of Hawai’i will finally open its 2023-24 men’s basketball season at 7 p.m. Tuesday versus visiting intrastate rival UH Hilo.

The home game in SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center comes a week after the season opener for most teams, including Hilo, which has already played five games. The Vulcans started 3-0 out of the gates but are coming off losses to Saint Martin’s (91-80) and Montana State-Billings (77-70).

All five of Hilo’s games were on the road, as the Vulcans won the CCA Canadian Tip-Off Classic in Langley, B.C., and went 0-2 in the PacWest-GNAC Crossover in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The Warriors, meanwhile, did play a home charity exhibition game Oct. 20 against then-No. 23 Saint Mary’s, losing 92-58. Although that defeat did not count on Hawai’i’s record, it did hurt the players’ pride and provided valuable lessons.

“I think it definitely was a good learning experience, to see where we’re at, to get better as a team and individually,” said senior guard and co-captain Noel Coleman. “It was a great challenge, and for a great cause (Maui wildfire relief), as well. So I’m happy we played that game, and I’m happy it went the way it went, because it exposed us and showed us where we need to get better. I think we’ll be fine. It was tough, but also they’re a great team, so they helped us get better.”

UH coach Eran Ganot said the first practice after the loss to Saint Mary’s was not great, but the following day’s workout was. And he added the progress has been steady in the weeks since.

“(The loss) just means we’re not a great team yet,” Ganot said. “One of the best things about (a) team is, you gotta do it individually and collectively, you gotta respond in the moment, together.”

UH Hilo will present another defensive challenge, as the Vulcans are averaging 76.8 points per game, led by four players averaging double figures: Guard Carlos Ramsey, Jr. (20.5 ppg), forward Kalique Mitchell (16.6), guard Charles Elzie III (11.4) and forward Zoar Nedd (10.6).

Nedd, of course, is a Kapolei High School alum who spent five years in the Warriors program before transferring to Hilo over the summer.

“Zoar graduated from here, he had one more year (of eligibility) and wanted to try something different,” Ganot said. “I know I speak for our whole program, I love him, we love him, we’re big fans, we’re always rooting for him. We’re always rooting for the Hawai’i programs, it’s just different when you’re playing against them. I’m a big fan of Zoar’s, I know everybody here is, and they should be. (But) once the ball is tipped, we’ll focus on the task at hand.”

Ganot said a big part of that task will be slowing down the Vulcans’ high-scoring offense.

“They’ve always been really dynamic, offensively,” Ganot said. “They’ve shot the 3 well, they have multiple points of attack. The combination of the shooting and the skill, they have guys who can play multiple positions, and they’re invested — they play together. That’s the mark of a good team, that’s why they’ve been good, and that’s why they’ll be good this year.”

Coleman said the Warriors cannot wait to get started themselves, to see how good they can be.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting game, just because it’s against an old teammate and it’s the first game of the season,” Coleman said. “We’ve been looking forward to starting to play, I think we’re all motivated and ready to go.”

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