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Amid controversies, Ganot focuses on practice

September 30, 2017 - 12:05am

The college basketball world was taken by storm this week by the explosive, widespread FBI investigation into schools paying for top-tier players via unscrupulous coaches and athletic apparel provider Adidas.

Then there’s the over-arching matter of athletes protesting social injustice that could linger for the foreseeable future.

Over at the University of Hawaii basketball offices, Eran Ganot quietly went about preparations for the ‘Bows first full practice for the 2017-18 season. With the Gib Arnold-era NCAA investigation into UH finally completed and the Rainbow Warriors’ sanctions restored at the tail end of the last season, it almost felt strange for Manoa to be outside of the drama, for once.

But both of the issues in the national news have far-reaching potential, perhaps even to the mid-major level of the Big West.

Ganot, UH’s third-year coach, called the national recruiting scandal — which led to the effective firing of legendary coach Rick Pitino at Louisville on Wednesday — “disappointing.”

“There’s a lot of things that could come out,” Ganot said Thursday. “People talk around the country about what possibly could come of this. I don’t know if anyone really knows. But I do know we’re going to practice. We have great people in our program, simply put, and we’re really proud of that.”

He also takes pride in open dialogue within the locker room.

“Over the years you have socioeconomic issues and cultural issues,” Ganot said. “Things that could be something (meaningful) to one of your players, or all of them, or none of them. The opportunity to address them amongst our team is something we’ve always been very open to.”

UH has 30 practices over the next 42 days to figure out where it stands on multiple fronts. There’s a Nov. 1 exhibition against Hawaii Pacific followed by the Nov. 10 regular-season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

There are some key differences with the ‘Bows, who went 14-16 (8-8 Big West) in 2016-17, including a one-and-done loss to Long Beach State in the Big West tournament.

The Rainbows have 10 returnees and four newcomers. However, two of the returnees — freshman Drew Buggs and fifth-year senior Mike Thomas — are coming off redshirt seasons due to injury. Thomas (7.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) was the starting power forward on UH’s 28-win NCAA Tournament team of 2015-16.

UH is without departed All-Big West first-teamer Noah Allen (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who now plays in Spain’s second-tier pro league. The other four starters are back, but there’s likely to be some changes.

While small forward is a question mark, the front court is still the ‘Bows’ bastion, with starters Gibson Johnson (11.4 ppg) and Jack Purchase (9.6) seasoned and reserves Zigmars Raimo and Ido Flaisher entering their second years.

“You’re asking those guys to lead because two of those guys (Thomas and Johnson) are seniors,” Ganot said. “We return a pretty experienced group there, and adding a guy like Mike, I can see why that conversation should start with our front court.”

Point guard will be the area of greatest competition, with Buggs, returning starter Brocke Stepteau and newcomer Jaaron Stallworth battling for the starting job while junior Sheriff Drammeh (9.2 ppg) could moonlight.

Stallworth, a junior, is coming off a broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered at Yuba City College. After sitting out contact drills in offseason workouts, he’s now cleared for most action.

Shooting guard Leland Green (7.0 ppg), who earned a starting job his freshman year, has looked sharp in the offseason.

“What I think is great is our depth is better. There’s great competition for spots, and there’s a bit of versatility,” Ganot said.

Staff-wise, assistant Chris Acker took a parallel job at Boise State and was replaced by former Montana assistant Marlon Stewart. Stewart, like Acker, will work on defensive schemes and with the team’s big men.

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