College basketball: Rainbows will use snub as motivation

FULLERTON, Calif. — Secondary awards had the effect of secondary motivation for the Hawaii basketball team.

Besides the obvious desire to make the NCAA Tournament by winning this week’s Big West tournament, the Rainbow Warriors hinted — some subtly, some less so — at a need to massage some chipped shoulders from Monday’s Big West postseason honors.

UH senior forward Mike Thomas was named an All-BWC honorable mention. Thomas, a five-year player and three-year team captain, led sixth-place UH (17-12, 8-8 Big West) with 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.

It marked the first time in the Rainbows’ six years of Big West membership they did not receive a first- or second-team award.

But UH picked up specialty recognition in junior guard Sheriff Drammeh’s hustle player award and junior forward Jack Purchase’s sixth-man award. They were firsts for the program.

Thomas, who redshirted last season and was a role player until this year, did not speak directly to his honorable-mention status when asked about his team’s awards. He credited Drammeh and Purchase but also noted prominent teammates Gibson Johnson, Brocke Stepteau and Drew Buggs went away empty-handed.

“It motivates you,” Thomas said with a laugh. “That’s kind of the hungry mentality you have to have. That’s how we’re feeling about it, that’s how we’re going to play. We’re ready.”

The ‘Bows meet third-seeded UC Irvine (16-16, 11-5) in the first round at 4 p.m. Thursday in Anaheim’s Honda Center.

Buggs, UH’s point guard, was thought to be a strong contender for freshman of the year, but it went to point guard Terrell Gomez of Cal State Northridge. Gomez had better individual scoring numbers (11.7 to 8.1), and their assists and turnovers were a wash, but Buggs more than doubled him up in steals (42 to 19) and played for a team with an even conference record, while the last-place Matadors (3-13) didn’t qualify for the tournament.

“Really happy to see my teammates get recognition. Sheriff, Jack and Mike, that’s big,” Buggs said as he walked to the team bus outside Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Gym after team practice Monday. “We know we have a lot of good players and a lot of players could’ve took home some awards, but we’re not too obsessed with the individual awards. We’re more focused on our team goal, and that’s winning this Big West Conference tournament.”

Asked if he thought he had a shot at the rookie award — one of the conference’s most prestigious — Buggs stayed classy.

“I think I had a shot, but Terrell also had a really good year,” Buggs said. “He earned it. The coaches voted for him, and it’s out of my control.”

“Nah, I don’t believe that!” interjected nearby teammate Samuta Avea, a fellow freshman.

Buggs smiled and continued, “Main thing I’m focused on is playing for a championship. I could care less about individual awards.”

Purchase, a starter and BWC honorable mention last season, came off the bench in 22 of 29 games this season and hit 50 3-pointers while supplying 7.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The Australian called it a “cool little award.”

“You gotta be ready to come off and play as hard as you can … when your name’s called,” Purchase said. “That’s how I was trying to play this year — stay aggressive and play how I know I can play.”

Purchase added of Thomas, “He’s been massive for us. I thought he got robbed a bit, first-team or second-team selection this year. But I know he’s gonna have a little bit of fire in him going into Thursday. That’s going to help us a little bit this week, as well.”

Drammeh, UH’s notorious charge-taking and trash-talking guard from Sweden, was second in scoring at 10.8 per game, second in steals at 1.1 per game, and often drew the defensive assignment on opposing teams’ most gifted offensive players.

“Blessed and honored to receive this award!” Drammeh tweeted.

Meanwhile, Leland Green remained out of action Monday from the right shoulder injury the guard suffered in the regular-season finale at Fullerton.

“I think it’s improving since Saturday,” coach Eran Ganot said. “We’re still kind of in evaluation mode as he goes through his treatment with our medical staff.”

TJ Shorts II was named Big West player of the year as well as newcomer of the year for first-place UC Davis, and Aggies coach Jim Les was coach of the year. Irvine forward Jonathan Galloway repeated as defensive player of the year.