The University of Hawaii men’s basketball team battled through the most unique situation of all college basketball programs during the pandemic. Though seemingly stranded with uncertainty, Head Coach Eran Ganot and his Rainbow Warriors held their pride and stayed positive. The team enters 2021-22 refreshed and motivated.
Eran Ganot and the Rainbow Warriors Stayed Positive During the Pandemic
Island fever is a concept created by outsiders. They struggle to comprehend why someone would be stranded from continental society, bordered by only water with unforgiving storms and simmering lava a constant second thought. But nestled within the lush foliage of Mānoa on the outskirts of downtown Honolulu, with the waves and ripples of the Pacific less than 10 minutes to the south, the University of Hawaii campus is full of students and staff gracious to call paradise home.
The ocean breeze has a different feel this season; it’s brushing against more faces. Last summer, the Rainbow Warriors were unable to hold workouts, utilize their locker room, or even eat meals together. Along with the other student-athletes and their peers, they were also prohibited from being social at a school that thrives in that environment. It’s not easy to make a quick trip to visit family and friends for a weekend while attending Hawaii.
Ganot said, “It’s great here, but it’s also very unique. I’ve never felt island fever, but I felt like people here felt it more during COVID. It has been interesting.”
The Rainbow Warriors men’s basketball team is an eclectic bunch. The roster consists of six international players and six others who are not local Hawaiians. It’s already difficult being on an island away from home for the first time, and the pandemic only heightened the sensation. Eran Ganot and his staff kept their players grounded and positive throughout a year like no other.
The Hawaii Community
The communal and social aspect of an island translates well to the Rainbow Warriors men’s basketball team. Last season, five different players led the squad in five different key statistical categories. During Ganot’s sixth year at the helm, Hawaii posted an 11-10 (9-9) record and finished sixth in the Big West. The Rainbow Warriors have never finished below .500 under Ganot’s lead.
It was a strange year for all, but the coach was able to maintain a standard. What may have been even more impressive was that the program had zero COVID interruptions or positive tests. This was accomplished with just a slightly less-loaded travel schedule as well. They couldn’t avoid airplanes or airports. For a program that records the most miles each year in college sports, that’s a testament to the players, the staff, and the community.
Hawaii as a state has been cautious and done well preventing the spread of the virus, and its vaccination rate remains high. This is partially due to it being an area that relies heavily on tourism, so with travel traffic being limited, the community was able to manage the pandemic with relative success. Well, to an extent; it’s hard to claim anything to be a success if any loss is present, especially considering the impact it had on Native Hawaiians.
Dealing with the Pandemic
There were still local obstacles to overcome for everyone, however. Typical burdens on the economy and social life created a difficult battle to reconstruct normalcy. From a more focused perspective, the basketball team, like all student-athletes, had to juggle the uncertainty of their sports schedule, the transition to online learning, and the lack of a social life at the same time.
Ganot explained about the restrictions, “There are various layers. Your state rules, your institutional rules, your conference rules. You have to balance all three; they all have to align. I do know that I was really proud of our guys for how they handled last year. It’s a group effort; it’s a credit to the university, it’s a credit to the academic advising group we have, and the athletic department.”
Ganot’s priority has always been to take care of his players and make Hawaii a home away from home. He wants his student-athletes to achieve in every aspect of the college experience, most importantly, the classroom. One of the more impressive traits of the men’s basketball program is their dedication to high academic standards. That remained the case even with the irrepressible circumstances the last year and a half. They are taking the steps within their control to maximize their chances at upholding their strong group dynamic. All players and coaches have been fully vaccinated since late May or early June.
Because the program was able to maintain its positivity and focus, it has helped them prepare for a new, hopefully normal, season.
Eran Ganot is Excited About 2021-22
The Big West, like many western leagues, is an underrated conference. It’s incredibly competitive; over the last 10 seasons, nine different programs have claimed the league championship. In 2020, the Big West Tournament was not held.
A Big West NCAA Tournament representative has also won its first first-round matchup four times during that same span. In 2014, Cal Poly defeated Texas Southern in a First Four battle; 2016 gave the basketball world a Hawaii upset over California as a 13-seed; in 2017, UC Davis won their First Four game against North Carolina Central; and in 2019, UC Irvine stunned Kansas State as a 13-seed.
“I’ve always had great respect for the programs, the schools, and the coaches,” Ganot stated about the conference. “It creates great competition night in and night out. I’m excited, you can see the potential of this league this year.”
Hawaii looks to progress this season. The program has been hovering around the .500 mark for the last five years. Ganot believes they have a great opportunity to win the conference and get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Juniors Mate Colina and Junior Madut are returning, as well as five sophomores motivated to experience a full season, including the workouts they were deprived of last summer. Key transfer Jerome Desrosiers, Kamaka Hepa, and Juan Munoz make the move from Princeton, Texas, and Longwood respectively.
“We’ve had the best summer since I’ve been here. I’m really proud of our staff for the group we’ve brought in. We have intelligent young men and a formula we wrinkle to our players’ strengths.”
A Fresh Outlook
Eran Ganot is entering his seventh season as head coach of the Rainbow Warriors. The 2021-22 season is welcomed by every program. The anticipation has created a fire within the Rainbow Warriors’ program, and expectations are high in Mānoa.
“Our goal every year is to win the league,” Ganot shared. “I feel like as a whole we’ve checked a lot of boxes. The experience and maturity are there. I’m excited about this group.”
Through positivity, Hawaii has prevailed. That’s something to be very excited and proud about, and the Rainbow Warriors are ready to take the next step.
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