Huge home stand sweep revives Hawai’i men’s basketball’s season

Huge home stand sweep revives Hawai’i men’s basketball’s season

Huge home stand sweep revives Hawai’i men’s basketball’s season

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 10, 2024

HONOLULU — How about that? 

The University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team downed UC Davis (15-9, 10-3 Big West) on Saturday night, 87-70, to pick up the team’s fourth win in the last five games behind double-doubles from Bernardo de Silva and Justin McKoy and another Noel Coleman masterpiece. 

“Really proud of this team for tonight and this week, and really, leading up to this week,” Hawai’i head coach Eran Ganot expressed postgame. “That was a heckuva team we just played, and we’ve talked about trying to put it together in all three phases… in the context of Thursday, in the context of today, [I] couldn’t be prouder.” 

Hawai’i (14-11, 6-7 Big West) spent the first half of the game unconscious from the field, making 15 out of 21 attempts from the floor including an unfathomable 9-of-11 from distance in the opening half as the ‘Bows worked the lead to double-digits at the break, 45-35. Everyone got in on the fun for UH as the bench poured in 12 points over the opening 20 minutes as freshmen Tom Beattie and Akira Jacobs went a combined 3-of-3 from long range in the period and reserve guard Kody Williams handed out three dimes. 

“We’ve said we’re a good shooting team [so] it was nice to see some breakthroughs,” Ganot said of his team’s scorching shooting performance. “This doesn’t just happen tonight. They’ve been shooting well in practice, shot it well the other night…we’ve still got a long road but hopefully we can build off of this.” 

While the ‘Bows offense cooled off a bit after halftime, the defense turned up the heat as Hawai’i held UC Davis to 8-of-31 shooting from the floor after halftime and a pitiful 2-of-13 from long range on a rare cold night for star backcourt duo Elijah Pepper and Ty Johnson. The Aggies’ backcourt was held to a combined 5-of-19 from the floor in the second half as the Rainbow Warriors dominated the glass for the second straight game. 

“You aren’t going to [completely] hold those guys down, they’re too good. Making them work for everything, making them work on the defensive end and [have the right matchups] … Give our guys credit for really working their tails off,” Ganot said of his team’s second half defensive chops.  

UC Davis was led by Pepper’s 27 points on 25 shots as the guard played nearly 36 minutes of the 40-minute contest. Backcourt duo Ty Johnson ended the night with 15 points and six rebounds in the loss. 

Hawai’i got double-digit performances from four different players as Justin McKoy and Bernardo de Silva recorded double-doubles with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 19 points and 12 rebounds respectively. Noel Coleman, who has been under the weather as of late, poured in another 18 points on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting before fouling out late while freshman Tom Beattie added 11 points off the pine for the ‘Bows. 

“Having been around [Noel] for a long time, it’s been fun to watch him grow and develop and he’s had great moments,” Ganot said of his starting shooting guard. “I said the other day [against UC San Diego] I thought it was his best game in a Rainbow Warrior uniform because you put it all in context… sometimes it takes so much out of you on the offensive end but he’s able to do it offensively, defensively against the best teams and the best schools. [That context]’s why I think you could argue it was his best week in this uniform.” 

After back-to-back wins against the Big West’s 2nd-place program, Hawai’i has suddenly catapulted itself back into the Big West’s top-4 conversation (also thanks in part to UC San Diego’s Division I reclassification period running through this season) as UH sits a game behind CSUN for the fourth seed in the Big West Conference tournament. The ‘Bows now hit the road for a two-game trip against a Cal Poly team that has begun to solve some things as of late and UC Santa Barbara, the program currently tied with Hawai’i on the conference ladder.  

After time away, Hawai’i MBB commit Aaron-Hunkin Claytor itching to come home

After time away, Hawai’i MBB commit Aaron-Hunkin Claytor itching to come home

After time away, Hawai’i MBB commit Aaron-Hunkin Claytor itching to come home

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 10, 2024

HONOLULU — The thought had been sitting in the background of his mind for a while, but former ‘Iolani guard Aaron Hunkin-Claytor could not hold it off any longer. 

“I’m so ready to get back home and play,” he shared via message on an early morning back on January 26. 

After two years away from the islands, a commitment to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and a phenomenal senior regular season at Salesian Preparatory College in California that saw his team honored as the top-ranked high school program in Northern California after a 25-1 regular season, Hunkin-Claytor allowed himself to think about the future for a moment. 

“I just miss playing in front of the people in Hawai’i and the atmosphere [inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center]. I love high school, but I am just really excited to play for the home team and for the ‘Bows,” he said to his circle. 

The 6-foot-3 point guard grew up in Hawai’i, spending nearly his entire life on the island of O’ahu with stops in Laie and Wahiawā after being born in Virginia. Hunkin-Claytor, the son of former University of Hawai’i-Hilo standout Mario Claytor, enjoyed a successful two seasons with ‘Iolani on the way to being named as a part of Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Fab 15 list before taking his talents to Richmond, California and the mainland to play for veteran head coach Bill Mellis at Salesian where his game could be developed even further. 

“Basketball-wise, [I have been] able to learn a lot more about being a true point guard from [Coach Mellis],” Hunkin-Claytor said explaining his move to the mainland. “Plus, colleges were able to come watch us practice during open periods easier at Salesian than in Hawai’i.” 

The move served its exact purpose, helping the guard improve in all facets of the game while receiving enough exposure to collect up 13 Division 1 scholarship offers while being rated as a three-star prospect and the top point guard in Northern California’s 2024 class (via Prep Hoops.com). As one of the more underrated guards in the country, Hunkin-Claytor has continued to rack up recognition and praise from anyone watching him play. 

For example, the head man of the program that Hunkin-Claytor plays for has been effusive with his praise of his senior guard. Salesian coach Bill Mellis has seen many elite, Division 1-caliber guards come through the school and play for him — including University of Hawai’i senior guard and captain JoVon McClanahan — and yet he couldn’t pick out any that were definitively better players than the all-around efficient Hunkin-Claytor. 

“[I think] he’s just as good as any [Salesian point guard I’ve coached] to be honest,” the 26th-year head coach said in a phone interview. “Different, but just as good.” 

Both Hunkin-Claytor and Mellis describe the guard’s game as “pass-first” with an emphasis on ball security as the three-star guard has posted better than a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio against an excellent slate of teams during his senior season.  

Hunkin-Claytor has always had a natural feel for the game — he fits all the clichés that are said about old-school point guards with a maturity beyond his years both on and off the floor. An extra coach on the hardwood, a pass-first, unselfish player with a mindset that has been shared and reflected from the moment he stepped into a uniform for The Pride.  

“He came in last year and his unselfishness was infectious,” Mellis recalled. “[This year’s Salesian team] is a group who doesn’t care who scores and that all started with Aaron setting the tone from the moment he got here.” 

Despite an affinity for passing, do not doubt the fact he can add in the scoring department himself at all three levels. Hunkin-Claytor is a right-handed shooter with quality shot mechanics and a comfort finishing with his left hand as much as his right that helps him do damage in transition with his creativity. 

For those who know the young man, it was easy to see this rise coming. He is as hard a worker as they come. 

The son of a military dad who was inspired by his father to pursue basketball, Hunkin-Claytor is the first one to practice every day – regardless of time – while maintaining excellence in the classroom. In Hunkin-Claytor’s time at Salesian, Mellis said that he had never once had to worry about his point guard taking care of business in school. According to Hunkin-Claytor, ‘Iolani’s regimen is to thank for preparing him well ahead of time for what he would see. 

“I found that in the classroom, ‘Iolani prepared me very well,” the senior said of his time at the ILH institution. “Salesian is a very good school academically, but I don’t think a lot of schools can top ‘Iolani’s academics.”  

Alongside the school workload, the scheduling of the basketball program at Salesian resembles that of a collegiate student-athlete. After his commitment to UH back on September 16, Hunkin-Claytor felt a weight off of his shoulders knowing his next step was set and could focus all his energy on his development and winning. 

Win, he absolutely has. 

Since the move to Salesian, Hunkin-Claytor has two seasons of 20+ wins and 9 total losses in that time. Overall, he is a winner who has not been too focused on stats while his team blows out a good portion of the schedule – he’s averaging a very balanced 8.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per contest on a squad without a “go-to scorer” identified and only half a game’s worth of minutes at a time.  

His goals do not stop with the regular season. With conference playoffs underway, Hunkin-Claytor’s Salesian team has eyes on sectionals and state titles. The Pride is the favorite to represent Northern California in the state tournament.  

That should excite Hawai’i men’s basketball fans, too. Hunkin-Claytor gives off every inclination that he fits perfectly with a program that has not finished under .500 in a full season of conference play since Eran Ganot took over but has struggled to win the Big West Tournament. In Hunkin-Claytor, the program adds a winner who is not satisfied with just regular season success. 

The high school senior has expressed plenty of excitement about joining the program that fits his mindset, too. Despite 13 total offers that included a pair of UH’s Big West foes in UC Davis and Cal Poly, Hawai’i always felt like home no matter where else he gave a chance to. The only question left was the connection to the coaches and team. 

“The team itself, the [high pick-and-roll] offense, the coaches and the community,” Hunkin-Claytor listed off when asked what pushed the ‘Bows over the top for him. “Really everything felt like a perfect fit to me.” 

The excitement for Hunkin-Claytor only grew more after Southern California high school product AJ Economou announced his commitment to the islands, leading to dreams of a high-flying, hot-shooting fast backcourt pairing between the two California prep school additions. Economou enrolled early at UH and has been seen on the bench with the Rainbow Warriors, although he will not play this season. 

“I’m ready to play with everyone on the team [but] I’m really ready to play with [Economou],” Hunkin-Claytor admitted. “We haven’t been able to play with or against each other, but I’ve watched his film and love his game. He’s an athletic, tall wing that can flat-out shoot and I think in transition it’s going to be fun to play with him.” 

Asked what makes Economou a “high-flyer” via text, Hunkin-Claytor responded with a video of his future UH teammate and simply said: “He has one of the best in-game dunk highlights in AAU history.” 

While he has tons of enthusiasm for returning home, he understands that the work has only just begun. He has confidence in his jumper, handle and court-vision while being a bulldog defensively – he leads the Pride in charges drawn/taken this season – but also needs to add strength to his skinny frame as he steps up a level. His head coach cautions that there is still plenty of room to grow for AHC but also expects his floor general to compete for time from Day 1 on Hawai’i’s campus. 

“He makes his teammates better,” Mellis continued. “He’ll need to get stronger, add more arc and consistency, but that’s every player. His court-vision is about as good as anyone.” 

He draws inspiration for his game from all-time greats like Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd, a pair of do-it-all point guards who had an affinity for passing the ball more than scoring it. A pair of guards that slowly developed a more consistent three-point jumper as their careers progressed. 

“Magic was a big guard that always made the game look fun but protected the ball from smaller guards while [Kidd] was a very strong guard who was an absolute floor general as well. They’re two guys I try to take the most from,” Hunkin-Claytor mentioned. 

Overall, the Hawai’i commit comes back home to the islands as a better player and leader than when he left. The exciting part of his return is the ceiling hasn’t been set for him – like a fine wine, Hunkin-Claytor is only getting better with time. 

“I’m really excited to play for and in front of the people,” Hunkin-Claytor exclaimed. “I can’t wait to be home!” 

Sweet-shooting Coleman helps Hawai’i shake off slow first half for win over Cal Poly

Sweet-shooting Coleman helps Hawai’i shake off slow first half for win over Cal Poly

Sweet-shooting Coleman helps Hawai’i shake off slow first half for win over Cal Poly

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 27, 2024

HONOLULU — Man, it feels good to get one. 

The lineup tinkering continued for the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors Saturday night as freshman guard Tom Beattie received his first start of the 2023-24 season, replacing captain JoVon McClanahan in the opening five to round out the new-look three-guard lineup that has shown some success in recent stints for Hawai’i as UH took down visiting Cal Poly, 83-73. Senior guard Noel Coleman led the way for the ‘Bows with 23 points, providing important basket after basket throughout the second half. 

The Rainbow Warriors (11-10, 3-6 Big West) started off slowly on offense against Cal Poly (4-17, 0-9 Big West) as the new lineup attempted to mesh, scoring just two points on a Justin McKoy spinning layup in the game’s first four minutes. The defense of UH, though, gave up just three points of their own as the game hit the first media timeout. 

Following the break in the action, Hawai’i snapped off a speedy 6-0 run with defense leading to offense to jump up ahead, 8-3. The Mustangs ran back ahead with six straight points of their own as Kobe Sanders hammed home a tomahawk jam, but a left-corner Juan Munoz three-pointer swished on through to give the Rainbow Warriors back the lead with 11:57 left in the opening half of play, 12-9. 

The ‘Bows lead grew to eight after an Akira Jacobs’ right-corner three dropped through to make it 19-11 with 8:35 left in the half, forcing a Cal Poly timeout. The Mustangs responded with their most consistent offense of the first half, closing out the period trading baskets with host Hawai’i before a defensive breakdown left open Cal Poly’s Aiden Prukop for a left-wing three cut it to a three-point UH lead to end the opening 20 minutes, 26-23. 

Hawai’i looked far more focused to open the second half, ripping off a 9-0 run behind the sweet-shooting touch of Noel Coleman before Cal Poly finally got on the board, making it 35-25 in favor of the ‘Bows just under five minutes after the halftime break. 

After trading baskets for the next few possessions, the Mustangs would cut it to a seven-point ‘Bows lead before Beattie found a cutting Jacobs on the baseline and McKoy got a transition layup to drop plus the foul to help UH push the lead up to 14 with less than six minutes to play. McClanahan gave Hawai’i its biggest lead of the game a minute and a half later as he drove all the way to the cup to make it 62-46 and drilled a pair of free throws to make it an 18-point advantage just a few seconds later. It looked like the ‘Bows would prance their way to a blowout win — but Cal Poly wouldn’t let go that easily. 

The Mustangs extended the game’s final four minutes out as long as possible, playing the foul game while hitting tough shots from inside and outside the arc to bring the game as close as seven with 33 seconds left before the ‘Bows closed out the visitors, 83-73. 

Cal Poly was led by senior Kobe Sanders’ double-double, posting a game-best 32 points and 10 rebounds in the loss for the Mustangs. Fellow guard Aiden Prukop poured in 23 points on 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range as Cal Poly remains winless in Big West play. 

UH was led by Noel Coleman’s 23 points, the fourth time this season that the senior has eclipsed 20 or more points for the Rainbow Warriors. McClanahan chipped in 12 points in his new-ish reserve role, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe in a game that saw 69 total free throws taken. 

As the team acclimates to life without Mor Seck, the ‘Bows did well to win the points in the paint battle, 32-24, despite losing the rebounding competition and dominated when Cal Poly turned the ball over by scoring 25 points off of 14 Mustang giveaways. On what head coach Eran Ganot has called the worst offensive-rebounding team in recent UH program memory, it’ll continue to be important for the Rainbow Warriors to win on the margins as they look to get back into the thick of the Big West standings. 

Hawai’i hits the road for a massive trip to the continent with games against Cal State Fullerton, who beat the ‘Bows in Honolulu to open the conference schedule, and UC Irvine next Thursday and Saturday. 

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

UCSB guard Ajay Mitchell misses a free throw during the Gauchos’ 78-61 win over Hawai’i.

Hawai’i’s Big West free-fall continues after loss to Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 25, 2024

HONOLULU — Mor injury, more problems. 

After announcing earlier in the day that 7-foot-1 sophomore center Mor Seck would miss the remainder of the 2023-24 season after suffering an ACL injury to his left knee in practice Tuesday, the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (10-10, 2-6 Big West) fell once again Thursday night at home as defending-conference champion UC Santa Barbara (12-7, 5-4 Big West) won for the fourth straight time against UH, 78-61, inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

Hawai’i opened the evening strong with another new starting lineup, this time the three-guard lineup that found success in the second half of the UC San Diego loss last Saturday, grabbing a five-point advantage to the delight of fans. 

It was the last smile for a while. 

Hawai’i’s offense, one that has been inconsistent for much of the year, went lifeless for the next nine-plus minutes of action as the Gauchos rattled off an incredible 26-0 run to take full control, 28-7, with 7:40 left in the first half. JoVon McClanahan would snap the scoreless streak for Hawai’i with a late-shot clock pull-up on the baseline as the ‘Bows rattled off ten points over the next three minutes to keep the game within 20 with four minutes remaining before half, 36-17. 

The Rainbow Warriors closed the half strong offensively, making seven of their final eight attempts but continuing to see struggles stacking defensive stops as Hawai’i entered the locker room trailing, 43-27. 

Defending Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell showed off his NBA-pedigree all evening, continuing the performance into the beginning of the second half with the first six points out of the locker rooms before fellow Belgian Noel Coleman knocked home a triple to get Hawai’i started once again. 

The team stabilized from there, trading baskets with USCB to keep the margin around 18-20 as time wound down in the ‘Bows sixth loss in eight tries in Big West play, eventually falling 78-61. 

UCSB’s Mitchell dropped home 25 points and added six assists as he imposed his will on the Hawai’i defense all night. Fellow backcourt mainstay Josh Pierre-Louis added a double-double, posting 10 rebounds to go along with his 14 points while Yohan Traore dominated inside en route to 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting. The Gauchos dominated inside all game long, outscoring UH in the painted area, 54-30, while winning the rebounding battle, 33-21, to help spotlight the loss of Seck for Hawai’i.

UH was led by Noel Coleman’s 19 points as one of three starters to finish in double figures, along with forward Bernardo de Silva’s 13 points and Juan Munoz’s dozen. The other seven Rainbow Warriors that saw time combined for 17 total points on 6-of-24 shooting as the offense struggled through multiple extended droughts throughout the night. 

Hawai’i will host Cal Poly on Saturday, January 27 inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. HT as they face an increasingly-steeper hill to climb out of the cellar.  

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

“Together” Hawai’i snaps 4-game home losing streak with tough win over UC Riverside

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 13, 2024

HONOLULU – Finally. 

After dropping their last four home contests and entering Saturday night on a bit of a slide, the University of Hawai’i men’s basketball team (10-7, 2-3 Big West) used a gutsy second half defensive effort and JoVon McClanahan’s 14 points to down UC Riverside (7-11, 2-3 Big West) inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center for just the ‘Bows second win in the last seven meetings between the programs. 

Hawai’i would get off to a fast start behind six early points from McClanahan, taking an 8-2 lead not even three minutes into action. UH’s advantage trickled on for the game’s first eight minutes until UCR’s Ben Griscti drilled a three-pointer to give the Highlanders their first lead of the night, 13-12, with 12:05 left in the first half. 

UH took the lead right back on the next possession as Justin McKoy got a hook shot to go plus a foul to send the game to the second media timeout of the first 20 minutes. Following the stop in the action, Juan Munoz would get in on the fun for Hawai’i with his first three-point field goal of the evening making it 18-15 in favor of the ‘Bows. 

UC Riverside would fight back in front with four consecutive points, but UH responded with a 7-0 run of their own behind a Munoz layup, Mor Seck thundering dunk and true freshman Akira Jacobs’ first triple of the night to jump ahead with 7:11 left in the half, 25-19. The Rainbow Warriors’ lead would grow as large as eight before a nightmare end to the half led to a Highlanders’ run to close the gap to one as the teams entered the locker rooms for halftime. 

After the break, the teams would continue the end-of-half trend of trading metaphorical blows with each other, trading the lead five times before the under-12-minutes media timeout when the Highlanders would hold a slim 48-44 lead. 

Eran Ganot’s squad turned up the heat on the defensive end from there. 

Following the timeout, Hawai’i started to chip away at the lead from the charity stripe with three makes in four attempts between Noel Coleman and Tom Beattie and six defensive stops in seven possessions. The ‘Bows would re-take the lead with 5:39 left in regulation behind back-to-back buckets from Coleman and Bernardo de Silva, 51-50, sending the 3,519 fans inside the Stan Sheriff Center into a frenzy.

That’s when the straightjackets came out. 

Hawai’i held UC Riverside without a field goal make from the 9:08 mark of the second half until there were 43 seconds remaining as McClanahan was busy icing the game from the free throw line and McKoy put the cherry on top with two makes of his own at the charity stripe to help snap a four-game home skid, 63-56. 

UC Riverside was led by Barrington Hargress and Nate Pickens, who had 18 and 10 points apiece in the loss. UH held usual standout scorer Isaiah Moses down for the most part as the guard finished the night 1-for-8 from the field and a total of four points.  

Hawai’i was led by McClanahan’s 14 points, including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line as he battled being poked in the eye late to close out the win for the ‘Bows. Noel Coleman finished with 10 points in the victory for UH, snagging eight rebounds along the way to lead the team. 

The Rainbow Warriors will now hit the road once again, taking on rival Long Beach State on Thursday, January 18 in another increasingly important road trip in an ever-so-closing-tighter Big West standings.