It’s tempting to say Eran Ganot is starting all over again going into his second season as the University of Hawaii men’s basketball coach. Only one rotation player is back from last year, and once again Ganot is turning the squad inside-out.
This seems like a first year, not a second year, and inside-out is a reference to the disciplined style of play Ganot prefers — when shooters are selective, usually pounding the ball inside and getting it back for a better look.
That fundamental philosophy, and others, haven’t changed. Although the roster has — drastically.
The veteran, talented team Ganot took over last year was coming off a more free-wheeling style and didn’t always buy in at first. But it combined what it was and what it learned enough to go 28-6 and win a game at the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
All of the starters are gone except forward Mike Thomas, and his right arm is in a cast and he’s going to redshirt and come back next fall. Things might have been different if the NCAA hadn’t suspended UH from postseason play for this upcoming season, and three other key players might not have left early.
But it’s time to forget about “What if … ?” and start pondering reality. It’s time to learn what Ganot and his staff can do with players that they’ve recruited — mostly young, inexperienced ones.
“It’s easier in some ways and in some ways it’s harder,” Ganot said before practice Tuesday, as reporters and photographers had their designated preseason day with the Rainbow Warriors. “Older guys might have habits you want to break. But they also have a strong foundation you want to build off of.”
The transition is such that in 12 months Sheriff Drammeh has gone from the baby of the ’Bows to their grizzled old veteran.
Well, sort of.
“Last year he was a deer in the headlights,” Ganot said of the sophomore guard from Sweden. “He might say he knows everything now, but I’ll say he’s maybe less of a deer in the headlights.”
That was a playful jab at Drammeh’s confident swagger, which fans got to see grow with each charge he took and each 3 he took — advised and unadvised — as his role expanded in the Big West and postseason to around 15 minutes a game.
One reason Drammeh was eventually deemed ready to play last season was it became evident the stage was not too big for him despite his youth.
He simply didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be out there. Now he knows he does, and he says he’s ready to lead at point guard.
“This year we’ve got to be tougher because we’ve got less experience,” Drammeh said. “The coaches are trying to get us as tough as possible before the season starts. A lot of us haven’t played at all on the Division I level.”
Mental toughness is even more important than the physical brand, Ganot said.
“It’s the next-play mentality. You have no time after a bad play or call to sulk. You do that and you give up two points on the other end. I love that about our game. You have to play offense and defense. And it’s not like baseball where you strike out and you go sit down.
“You gotta care so much that you can let it go.”
Noah Allen is a graduate transfer from UCLA who can play just about any position on the court. Being part of an almost entirely new squad as it takes shape is “exciting,” he said.
“That’s the term we use for it,” Allen said. “We compete every day and grow together as a team.”