Mater Dei wing commits to “dream school” in University of Hawai’i

Mater Dei wing commits to “dream school” in University of Hawai’i

Mater Dei wing commits to “dream school” in University of Hawai’i

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 20, 2024

HONOLULU – Since age four, Scotty Belnap has known that he wanted to play for the University of Hawai’i. 

The 6-foot-6 wing out of Mater Dei (CA) announced his commitment to the ‘Bows on Thursday following a successful senior season that finished with his Monarchs ranked inside the nation’s top 50 high school boys’ basketball teams. After winning 29 games and losing only six during his final campaign, the 2024 graduate will embark on a 2-year LDS mission to Bahía Blanca, Argentina before joining Hawai’i ahead of the 2026-27 season as a preferred walk-on with eyes on earning a scholarship. 

“Hawai’i has been my dream school for pretty much my entire life,” Belnap said in a phone interview. “When [the opportunity to play for UH] came around, I knew what I wanted to do.” 

The lanky shooter spent four years on varsity at Mater Dei, quickly becoming one of legendary coach Gary McKnight’s most trusted players as a lockdown defender and reliable scoring outlet. During his junior and senior seasons, he also served as a captain for the Monarchs. 

While Belnap leaves for his 2-year mission that will include a two-month crash-course on speaking Spanish before arriving to Argentina, the guard assured that he would be able to work and serve at the same time ahead of his arrival on campus in 2026. 

“I’ll be able to work-out in the mornings most times there,” he said of his plans for basketball in the meantime. “Luckily, basketball is also popular in Argentina, so it won’t be like there’s no courts anywhere. There will be some chances for me to still work on my game, too.” 

The initial spark between the ‘Bows and Belnap becoming a real-life pairing came back when the guard visited the island in 8th grade with his school for a basketball trip that included a tour of the Hawai’i campus and a chance to say hello and meet some of the faces among the Rainbow Warriors men’s program. 

One of those faces? New assistant coach Gibson Johnson during his first stint in Hawai’i. 

The two hit it off quickly, creating a bond that would later down the line result in the 6-foot-6 guard committing to Utah Tech last August where Johnson was coaching. Following Johnson’s recent hiring at Hawai’i and Belnap’s recent decommitment from the Trailblazers, the two connected again. 

“I really like Coach Gibson and I love the school. I got a chance [to be on O’ahu] a few days ago and it just felt like everything I wanted was lining up nicely,” the guard shared. 

Belnap enjoyed an incredibly successful high school career, winning 111 games in his four years on varsity while the program posted a winning percentage of .836 during his time at Mater Dei. The 6-foot-6 do-it-all wing improved his statistics every season, averaging 9.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game this past year while the Monarchs marched past the competition. Mater Dei had 19 of the 29 victories come by a margin of at least 20 points while 13 wins were decided by more than 25 points. 

“I honestly don’t care if I am scoring [40 points] or if I’m held scoreless as long as when the buzzer sounds, my team is the one who won,” Belnap said of his mindset. 

Keep up to date with the latest in Hawai’i men’s basketball recruiting with Hawai’i Sports Radio Network’s tracker or follow Paul Brecht on Twitter/X (@12brecht) for up-to-date information regarding the ‘Bows. 

Hawai’i Pacific elevates from within, promotes Flabel to associate head coach

Hawai’i Pacific elevates from within, promotes Flabel to associate head coach

via HPU MBB

Hawai’i Pacific elevates from within, promotes Flabel to associate head coach

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 18, 2024

HONOLULU – A Hawai’i Pacific men’s basketball coaching search has ended with the answer in-house all along for the 2nd consecutive year. 

Cam Flabel was officially named as the Sharks’ new associate head coach on Monday, elevating the Boise, Idaho native after a nationwide search following the departure of former associate HC Patrick Frost. After three years in various roles on staff, the 25-year-old Flabel heads into his 4th season with Hawai’i Pacific as one of the youngest collegiate associate head coaches in the nation – regardless of level.  

“I am really excited about promoting Coach Cam,” said Sharks head coach Jesse Nakanishi. “He has done great work with our program for three years and has earned this opportunity. He has been instrumental in our recruiting efforts turning this program around. He has great relationships with everyone around him, he’s led our work in the HPU and Honolulu community and he epitomizes the grind, having to work multiple jobs to stay in this profession and work the ladder [to this point].” 

Originally brought on by former HPU head coach Darren Vorderbruegge ahead of the 2021 season as a graduate assistant, Flabel spent the past two years as an assistant coach for the Sharks. He remained with the program after Coach V’s retirement in 2023 when the then-associate HC Nakanishi was promoted to the head coach’s chair, taking on an even bigger role for the program’s day-to-day operations and recruiting endeavors.  

“To be able to stay at Hawai’i Pacific and continue to build this program with Coach Nak is a dream come true. I am extremely grateful and excited for this opportunity,” an exuberant Flabel said. “I don’t take [this role] lightly and it’s something I plan on giving my all to, every single day.” 

Following a 20-win season and the most success for the program in more than a half-decade, Flabel takes over a substantial portion of defensive game-planning duties for HPU while continuing the Sharks’ preparation of scouting and film sessions. Other responsibilities for the 25-year-old coach include overseeing the player development of the Sharks’ guards and wings and continuing to lead HPU’s recruiting. 

“I’ve had some great mentors at HPU – Coach Nak, Coach V and Coach Frost. After being here for three years and slowly working my way up, I’ve gained a ton of experience in every single facet of this program,” said Flabel. “[My time at Hawai’i Pacific] has developed me into being a reliable piece of the staff that has experienced everything from recruiting to player development to scouting to coordination. I feel really prepared for this next step.” 

His immediate boss agreed. 

“The program continuity [Flabel] provides, his loyalty and work ethic made this an easy decision. His best years are still ahead of him and we are just fortunate to have Cam around,” Nakanishi definitively stated. 

Off the court, Flabel is expected to continue planning and coordinating community service projects for HPU while serving as a travel and coordination checkpoint for the program. Last season, the Sharks participated in a mentorship program throughout the school year with two local elementary schools among multiple other community outreach projects through Flabel’s efforts.  

“I really pride myself on doing things the right way – treating people well, recruiting good dudes, giving back to the community and putting the work in on the court with our guys,” Flabel said when asked about his core values as a coach. “I want to continue to build this program the right way with the right people. My first year [in Hawai’i] taught me to not take anything for granted and that it’s always a grind to success.” 

After seeing five departures from last season’s roster coming from various routes, HPU has re-loaded again with five new pieces that can help the program this year and in the future. 

“The program is trending in the right direction and I feel like we have the staff, players and resources to turn [Hawai’i Pacific] into a perennial powerhouse,” an enthusiastic Flabel said. 

Sharks’ Shimmy: Hawai’i Pacific’s summer hardwood re-load complete

Sharks’ Shimmy: Hawai’i Pacific’s summer hardwood re-load complete

via Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball

Sharks’ Shimmy: Hawai’i Pacific’s summer hardwood re-load complete

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 17, 2024

HONOLULU – College athletics in 2024 has become a massive game of musical chairs. Over 1,900 players in Division I college basketball entered their names into the transfer portal after the 2023-24 season, though some also entered the NBA Draft waters. Add in players from Division II, Division III and JUCO levels and it totaled to over 3,000 hoopers that began looking for a new home this offseason. 

Regardless of level, every team remains wondering the same question: when the music stops, who will have a seat at the table of contenders?  

Hawai’i Pacific, who finished 3rd in the PacWest Conference last season and graduated only one player in guard Tyrease Terrell (16 3PT makes in 20 games played), experienced a pair of losses to the portal in 7-foot-4 center Matt Van Komen (7.2 ppg in 22 games played) and leading scorer Melo Sanchez (14.7 ppg in 29 games played) while freshman Nil Jovanovic and junior Nikola Milojevic left the program and American college basketball all together. 

Five out – and not talking about the motion offense – for the Sharks following the program’s most successful season in seven years. For head coach Jesse Nakanishi, year one was only the foundation for HPU while the expectation is now to compete for league titles each year. 

So, the Sharks hit the portal hard themselves. 

PORTAL COMBAT: ROUND 2 

HPU dominated on the defensive end in 2023-24 due to size, scheme and a seemingly non-stop rotation of talented bigs for Nakanishi and staff. After seeing Van Komen in the transfer portal move on to Division I Elon University, a massive hole in the front court remained in the wake. 

Enter former University of San Francisco and Southern Nazarene big man Jonas Visser, who was the first domino to fall for HPU as the 6-foot-10 forward committed to join the Sharks on May 3. Originally from the Netherlands, Visser spent his first four years of college basketball on the roster for USF, appearing in 36 games for the Dons. 

His time in San Francisco saw him crossing paths with Sharks’ captain Maj Dusanic for a pair of seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22, forming a friendship through the battles on the practice court. After limited playing time while with USF, Visser enjoyed an increased role last season with Southern Nazarene University. The 6-foot-10 forward started in all 30 contests, shooting 63% from the floor while averaging double-digits (10.2 ppg) in 24 minutes each night. 

The big man will be expected to provide a similar calm, low-post scoring presence for Hawai’i Pacific heading into 2024-25. While not as vertically imposing as his predecessor in Van Komen, Visser will make a substantial impact on the Sharks’ defense with his vocal leadership, high basketball IQ and physical strength. 

“He can be an anchor on both ends of the floor for [HPU],” a coach scouting the Dutch forward said. 

Ten days later, former Dominican (IL) guard Joshua West committed to Hawai’i Pacific after an All-NACC 1st-team selection during his sophomore season at Division III. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 17.6 points and 5.2 rebounds over 25 games last year, shooting 50% from the field and 42% from 3-point range. He exceeded the 15-point margin in 18 different contests last year and had at least one steal in all but four games. 

West provides an immediate contributor to the HPU backcourt after the graduation of Tyrease Terrell while coming to the islands with two seasons remaining of eligibility. The definition of a 3-and-D guard, the Chicago-native boasts positional versatility for Nakanishi and company and can fill different roles for the Sharks off the bench or in the starting lineup. 

Still looking for a player to fill the high-usage rate of exiting sophomore Melo Sanchez, Hawai’i Pacific set sights on a pair of transfer portal crown jewels, two high-level shooters from the Division I level, to boost HPU. Former UTRGV guard Sherman Brashear and Boise State wing Pavle Kuzmanovic committed to join the Sharks within 24 hours of each other, giving Nakanishi an embarrassment of riches for his 2024-25 rotation. 

Brashear comes to the islands as an elite shooter who can increase the volume of his shots in his final year of eligibility. After spending the past two seasons coming off the bench for UT Rio Grande Valley, the southpaw sharpshooter dipped his toes in the transfer portal and found paradise with the Sharks. The shifty, sweet-shooting lefty drilled 94 3-pointers in his time with the Vipers, shooting 40% from long range this past year in less than 18 minutes per night. 

At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Brashear’s frame compares favorably to Sanchez as he slides into the former San Diego-native’s spot in the offense. A physical guard on both ends of the floor, Brashear is not afraid of contact or bigger bodies. A noted “gym rat” and hard worker, look for Brashear’s numbers to improve as the year goes on and his comfort increases as he works towards all-conference recognition.  

Kuzmanovic, like Brashear, is another offseason portal combat victory for HPU as the versatile wing also joins the Sharks for his final season of eligibility. After spending the first three years of his college career with Boise State, appearing in two NCAA Tournaments and a National Invitational Tournament during that time, Kuzmanovic transferred to Arkansas-Little Rock last year. While there, the Serbian guard dealt with a nagging injury that sidelined him for all but nine contests. 

In the 6-foot-5 Serbian, the Sharks add a 2nd legitimate scorer that will play all guard spots next season while providing an elite catch-and-shoot threat for returning all-conference guard Diggy Winbush and forward Maj Dusanic to find for open looks. Once again like Brashear, his shooting touch is not limited to being set up by teammates.  

Kuzmanovic provides a quality offensive option with the ability to score off the bounce at every level, using the pick-and-roll creatively to produce points for his team. If healthy, he provides another all-conference level talent to the Sharks. 

“He’s got the European-style game,” said one coach of the guard’s court presence. “Just smooth playmaking and creativity and his shot is just pure.” 

In all four players, Hawai’i Pacific sees potential double-digit scorers joining an already loaded returning cast of Winbush, Dusanic, 6-foot-9 forward Charlie Weber and defensive standout Josh Niusulu.  

HIGH SCHOOL SPLASH 

Former Baldwin standout Hudson Yarbrough also joined the Sharks’ offseason recruiting class back on May 21. After winning the MIL Division I Player of the Year award for his senior campaign with the Bears, the 6-foot-8 forward spent two years at Elite Prep (WA) to prepare for college. 

Yarbrough joined a few Sharks players for a player-run scrimmage session back on April 15, visiting the Shark Tank and getting positive reviews as a long-term upside player. With a loaded veteran front court, Yarbrough will be provided an opportunity to develop slowly and adjust to the college game with Weber, Dusanic, Visser and Tucker Pellicci all incumbents on the depth chart. 

TAKE FIVE 

Double entendre, sure. There were five players taken from the HPU roster in the offseason, but the Sharks took five talented players from the portal and high school ranks to replenish the stable of talent in house for Jesse Nakanishi’s program. 

The Sharks, who are searching for their first PacWest title and playoff berth since 2017, are loaded with talent that will need to mesh quickly as HPU looks start hot with a potentially non-conference schedule once again to get battle tested for another year in the competitive PacWest. 

Hawai’i Sports Radio Network (95.1 FM | AM 760) is your home for all Hawai’i Pacific athletic broadcasts. Listen to archived games or check the Program Guide for our next HPU Sharks broadcast. 

Follow Paul Brecht on X/Twitter (@12brecht) for all the latest news for HPU men’s basketball. 

Hawai’i Football associate head coach Chris Brown joins ‘Wake Up in the Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’

Hawai’i Football associate head coach Chris Brown joins ‘Wake Up in the Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’

Hawai’i Football associate head coach Chris Brown joins ‘Wake Up in the Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 6, 2024

HONOLULU A year in the making, the “Lion’s Den” leader finally joined “Wake Up in the Den” on Thursday morning. 

University of Hawai’i associate head coach Chris Brown joined the weekday morning show for a walk down memory lane, discussing the Damien Monarchs days – the greatest school in Kalihi, Brown said smiling – before heading off to play for the home school, starring for June Jones and the ‘Bows during the greatest single-season turnaround in NCAA Football history. 

Following a successful four-year career at Hawai’i, Brown discussed signing as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. While in Baltimore, the Kahalu’u product crossed paths with a character that would not only leave an imprint on his professional career but also join up with him down the line on the ‘Bows coaching staff. 

“I never forgot meeting [Coach Dennis Thurman with the Ravens], him asking me every day – he used to call me “Hawai’i” and would say ‘Hey Hawai’i, how you doing? How’s the family?’ and then he would ask me if [I needed any help with the playbook],” Brown shared of his first meeting with the new UH defensive coordinator. “When [UH’s defensive coordinator job opened up], his name was one of the candidates and I saw that and my ears perked … [when I was interviewing him on the phone], I told him that I never forgot the times when [he] checked on me, helped me, asked me if I was okay … long story short, two days later, we hired him as the defensive coordinator.” 

Following the bottom of the hour break, the crew shifts the conversation to Brown’s career on the sidelines after his NFL stint. The standout linebacker turned in his helmet for a coaching hat and joined the Saint Louis football program as a junior varsity coach. After excelling there, Brown joined the varsity Crusaders coaching staff where he helped see the program through a boom of success during the Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovalioa era for Saint Louis. 

The journey pivoted to the continent, where national high school football powerhouse Bishop Gorman came calling for the young man from Kahalu’u to instill the culture of the “Lion’s Den” into the program. He spent seven seasons in Las Vegas, winning five state titles, before good friend and former teammate Timmy Chang came calling to bring Brown home. 

“I knew in my heart that coming back to coach [at Hawai’i] was my dream. To come back and to give back to a school that gave us so much, it was [mine and Timmy’s] turn to come back and build this thing back up again,” Brown said of the difficult decision to leave his role of associate head coach at Bishop Gorman. 

Since putting back on the Warrior Green, Brown has brought nine of those Bishop Gorman players in to help re-energize the program as the ‘Bows enter a critical third season under Chang. The expectation to perform is not just coming from the outside though.  

“These boys are so hungry to win games that they can taste it,” Brown said of the players as the team enters year three of the Chang era. “Now they have to learn how to win. Once they learn how to win and this becomes a constant thing, they’re going to take it over. Now’s the time that we feel they are ready to do it and it’s really exciting to see how they hold themselves accountable now and how the standard has just changed.” 

You can catch ‘Wake Up in The Den with Ku’ulei Agbayani’ live every weekday morning from 8-9 a.m. HT on 95.1 FM, AM 760 and streaming on hawaiisportsradio.com. The show is available after recording where most podcasts are, along with past OIA and HPU broadcasts and older interviews. 

Subscribe to our YouTube channel, Hawaii Sports Radio Network, for the behind-the-scenes of shows and interviews like this one and many more! 

Former ‘Bow, Utah Tech assistant coach Gibson Johnson re-joins Hawai’i coaching staff

Former ‘Bow, Utah Tech assistant coach Gibson Johnson re-joins Hawai’i coaching staff

Hawai'i adds former player, Utah Tech assistant Gibson Johnson to staff.

via Hawai’i Athletics

Former ‘Bow, Utah Tech assistant coach Gibson Johnson re-joins Hawai’i coaching staff 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 5, 2024

HONOLULU – Guess who’s back, back again? 

Former Rainbow Warriors standout Gibson Johnson (‘18) will be joining the Hawai’i men’s basketball coaching staff, UH announced Wednesday morning. It will mark the 2nd stint as a coach for the former standout forward and all-Big West honorable mention after serving on Eran Ganot’s staff as a graduate manager (2019-21) and director of player development (2021-22).  

“First of all, I love the [Hawai’i men’s basketball program],” Johnson said regarding his encore stint on the Rainbow Warriors’ staff. “My love started playing here. I met a lot of special people at this program and university and the state in general is just surrounded by the type of people that I want to surround myself with … It’s a special place.” 

Johnson, who won a junior college national championship at Salt Lake Community College prior to his playing days for the ‘Bows, was a two-year captain and starter for the Rainbow Warriors. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged double-digit points in each season with Hawai’i, starting 59 out of 60 possible games while being named an all-Big West honorable mention during his junior season. 

“Being able to explain what it is on a day-to-day basis [at Hawai’i], what it’s like playing for coach – the amazing things about it and the struggles you go through [as a collegiate student-athlete] – I feel like I’m able to give that insight,” Johnson responded when asked about some of the traits he’ll bring back to the staff. “I have some good qualities as a coach as far as being able to recruit, how connected I am in the game [too].” 

Following his graduation, Johnson took a year as an assistant coach at SLCC before jumping on staff at his alma mater. After his three seasons on the pine with Ganot and company, Johnson accepted a role at Utah Tech as an assistant coach under legendary Division II coach Jon Judkins – who led then-Dixie State to 12 straight winning seasons, six PacWest conference crowns and nine Division II NCAA Tournament appearances before the program transitioned into the Division I institution ranks. 

“It was a learning experience overall. The programs are run differently so [I was afforded] different responsibilities with an elevation going from [director of player development at Hawai’i] to assistant coach,” Johnson said, reflecting on his time with Utah Tech. “I was given full opportunity over at Utah Tech and that really allowed me to grow. Coach [Jon Judkins] is a great guy, over 600 wins in college sports [is hard to do]. 

While with the Trailblazers, Johnson continued refining the multiple aspects of his coaching prowess as a developer of players, strategist, and recruiter. Among his quality traits as a coach, multiple staffs have lauded his ability to recruit and connect with players from across the country. His time at Utah Tech lined up perfectly with that for Idaho transfer sophomore Tanner Christensen, joining the Trailblazers for the 2022-23 season. Christensen committed to transfer to Hawai’i for his final year of eligibility earlier this offseason on April 1 and officially signed on April 17. 

“I’m really excited about where the program is heading,” Johnson said. “We suffocate our program with great people and we’re going to keep pushing in that [positive] direction. I’ve always been about winning championships, it’s the reason I came out here and that’s what we want to do.”