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. 

HPU picks up pair of big-time wings in Division 1 transfers Brashear, Kuzmanovic

HPU picks up pair of big-time wings in Division 1 transfers Brashear, Kuzmanovic

Guards Sherman Brashear (left) and Pavle Kuzmanovic (right) committed to Hawai’i Pacific over the weekend, adding a pair of big scoring guards to the roster.

HPU picks up pair of big-time wings in Division 1 transfers Brashear, Kuzmanovic

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JUNE 2, 2024

HONOLULU – The remodeling of the Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team gained a pair of eye-popping pieces from the transfer portal this weekend as the Sharks gained the commitment of former Division I guards Sherman Brashear and Pavle Kuzmanovic for the 2024-25 season. 

The addition of the two 6-foot-5 guards adds a pair of reliable scoring threats with size on the perimeter to the rotation for HPU. The Sharks, who lost 6-foot-3 shooter Tyrease Terrell to graduation and saw 6-foot-4 wing Melo Sanchez enter the transfer portal, immediately gain two players who will be able to contribute in a big way from Day 1 in the Shark Tank to fill the void as Jesse Nakanishi’s program looks to take the leap from playoff participants to playoff performers next season.  

Brashear, a 6-foot-5 left-handed shooter from Rockwall, Texas, was a 2020 graduate who spent his first year out of high school at Panola College, a respected junior college in Texas before transferring to Western Kentucky for his freshman season. Following a year with the Hilltoppers, another transfer was in the works to a better home in UTRGV where he spent the last two seasons in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) playing for the Vaqueros. He shot 40.2% from 3-point range last season across 31 appearances. The guard provided a scoring threat with defensive upside in various roles for the Vaqueros in his two seasons, totaling 43 steals in 63 contests while playing just under 20 minutes a night.

Last season against the University of Hawai’i, Brashear knocked down a triple and came away with two steals in a reserve role, working his way to the line five times in a 7-point outing. In the Vaqueros’ second-to-last game of the season on March 7, Brashear enjoyed his best showing of the year in a 79-74 loss against Utah Tech. The silky-smooth shooting guard tallied a career-best 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting (6-of-9 3PT) while pulling down five rebounds, collecting a trio of steals to go along with three assists in 37 minutes of action. 

Kuzmanovic, a 6-foot-5 wing from Loznica, Serbia, committed to Boise State ahead of the 2020-21 season after enjoying an incredibly successful international career in his youth. Before heading to the perennial NCAA Tournament contenders in the Broncos, Kuzmanovic helped lead the U18 Serbian National Team to the 2018 FIBA U18 European Championship and helped the U19 team advance to the 2019 FIBA World Cup quarterfinals the very next year. 

During the 2018-19 season, the rising Serbian star shot 44.8% from 3-point range for OKK Beograd, a feeder club for Mega Basket that plays in one of Serbia’s top-level basketball divisions, Basketball League of Serbia. With the sharp-shooting touch of the young Kuzmanovic, OKK Beograd finished with the organization’s second-best placement in league standings ever. 

He spent his final year before college playing in the highest-level professional league in Montenegro, Prva A Liga, for KK ABS Primorje and appeared in 11 games for the team. The Serbian sharpshooter drilled over 38% of his 3-point attempts while playing about 27 minutes per contest, averaging 11.2 points as a 19-year-old against grown men before heading to the United States to play college basketball. 

In three seasons with Boise State, Kuzmanovic and the Broncos made the NCAA Tournament two times while making the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) in the other season. After his junior season with the Broncos, Kuzmanovic transferred to Arkansas-Little Rock and appeared in eight games, dealing with a nagging foot injury. 

The commitments of Kuzmanovic and Brashear wrap up the offseason recruiting cycle for the Sharks after adding five fresh players via the portal and high school commitments.

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

HPU men’s basketball visited the Special Education Center of Hawai’i’s Diamond Head location on Tuesday morning for SECOH’s March Madness event. | Photo Credit: HPU men’s basketball

HPU visits Special Education Center of Hawai’i for March Madness Event

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 2, 2024

HONOLULU – They call it the “Big Dance” for a reason. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s men’s basketball team continued an emphasis on giving back to the local community on Tuesday, visiting the Diamond Head location for the Special Education Center of Hawai’i (SECOH) to help prepare the clients for their “March Madness” event. 

SECOH’s mission, as stated on their website, is to provide personalized services to people with disabilities in the spirit of enriching lives. Working with clients of all ages, HPU had 12 representatives (three coaches, nine players) in attendance for a day full of fun. In honor of the NCAA Tournament for both men and women, SECOH and HPU’s men’s basketball team combined forces for an hour-and-a-half practice session for clients to go through basic basketball skills drills with the team – with some breaks for bonding on the side. 

It was something that clients had been looking forward to ahead of time, says HPU athletic director Debbie Snell – who has a son named Dillon that attends SECOH. Dillon, an avid Sharks fan that could be seen at numerous games inside the Shark Tank this past season, was just one of MANY people excited to work with HPU. 

The team arrived around 9:40 a.m. for the 10 a.m. session, excitedly anxious to get to work giving back to those in local communities in just another way. Despite having offseason workout sessions later in the day around noon, nine players (who didn’t have academic responsibilities as a time conflict) from last year’s squad piled into the Diamond Head location to help prepare those at SECOH for Wednesday’s modified and non-modified scrimmages. Along with head coach Jesse Nakanishi, associate head coach Patrick Frost and assistant coach and lead recruiter Cam Flabel, even soon-to-be graduate Tyrease Terell joined the Sharks in the fray despite his eligibility being used up. 

“The team is amazing and so good with folks from all different backgrounds and levels of ability,” athletic director Debbie Snell said about the men’s basketball program at HPU. “The way they jump right in and make the experience memorable for the participants is truly heart-warming.” 

It wasn’t all hoops, there were times for dance breaks and bonding between SECOH’s clients and the Sharks’ hoopers. 

“Today was an awesome, new experience for our team visiting SECOH and helping their clients with their March Madness event,” Flabel said in a phone interview with HSRN. “It was a great event filled with lots of smiles, laughter and dance moves! We were happy to help come together and make an impact and help make their day. It’s all about perspective and that is something we are reminded about daily.” 

The fun day is just another example of the continuous work that Nakanishi and his program do in the community. During the 2023-24 regular season, Hawai’i Pacific men’s basketball received the runner-up title for the 2024 Division II Award of Excellence while being the winner for the honor from the PacWest conference. Among the events the team participated, planned and put together were Maui Food Drives, basketball clinics to support the rebuild of the island after the Maui wildfires and the first annual “Field Trip Game” in conjunction with the Shark Bite Mentorship programs the team participates in with Noelani Elementary School and Mānoa Elementary School. 

*Note: Photos provided by HPU Men’s Basketball*

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

Hawai’i Pacific suffers setback against APU in PacWest quarterfinals, 56-55

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 7, 2024

SAN DIEGO, CA – The Sharks continued to hammer home the point in their postgame press conference. 

“No moral victories,” HPU’s first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi repeated. 

Yet following Hawai’i Pacific’s 56-55 loss to #6 seed Azusa Pacific Thursday afternoon, it’s difficult not to see those mini-victories that had been piling up all year for the Sharks. Despite that mounting momentum for HPU, APU had different plans for Round 3 of Sharks-Cougars. 

Hawai’i Pacific (18-11, 13-7 PacWest) struggled out the gate, going the opening three minutes of action without scoring after APU’s Ken West drilled a step back 3-pointer for the game’s first points on the opening possession. Charlie Weber finally got the Sharks on the board with a close finish inside at the 16:11 mark before Maj Dusanic delivered the first lead of the day to HPU on the very next possession with a nifty finish of his own. 

APU, though struggling offensively overall, caught fire from behind the arc in the early going as the team’s first four made shots came behind the 3-point line with forward George Reidy serving as the catalyst of the Cougars’ 12-6 lead just over eight minutes into the game. 

Nakanishi’s squad, just as they had all season, responded before allowing the game to get out of hand by attacking the paint and rattling off the next eight points to re-take the lead with just over nine minutes left in the first half, 14-12. The Sharks pushed the lead to four following a Melo Sanchez triple with 6:11 remaining before Azusa Pacific was able to knot things up at 21-all after a Reidy layup two minutes later. 

APU grabbed the lead to close out the half, going on a 9-4 run over the final two and a half minutes to take a five-point advantage into the break after redshirt freshman Michael Saba drilled a corner three at the horn to make it 30-25. 

Sanchez drained another three to open the 2nd half to bring the Sharks back within a possession, but Azusa Pacific’s Bryce Sloan would answer right back with a longball of his own on the next possession. HPU’s Weber tried his luck with a straightaway 3-point make before Reidy continued his hot shooting for another Cougars’ response.  

HPU would flip the script, scoring the next ten points to take a four-point lead of their own by the 12-minute mark before Saba snatched the lead back for Azusa Pacific quickly with five straight points to give a 42-40 advantage to the Cougars with 11:01 remaining. 

The teams traded baskets over the next six minutes, seeing the game tied up by the Sharks before APU would take the lead right back. The preseason PacWest favorites after falling in last season’s championship game, Azusa Pacific showed off the team’s championship DNA as they fought off valiant efforts from Hawai’i Pacific over the final four minutes to cling on and upset the Sharks, 56-55. 

Azusa Pacific’s George Reidy posted his 3rd-highest scoring output of the year, leading all scorers with 18 points while going a tidy 7-of-13 from the floor and 4-of-9 from long range. APU guard Bryce Sloan added 12 points, five assists and eight turnovers in the win while All-PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West ended the afternoon with 8 points. 

APU will take on #2 seed and PacWest regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday, March 7 with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT/12:30 p.m. PST. 

Hawai’i Pacific was led by Melo Sanchez’s 14 points of 5-of-15 shooting as the 2nd-team all-conference guard dealt with foul trouble for most of the contest. Charlie Weber ended the day with 11 points while 3rd-team all-conference pick Diggy Winbush did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss for the Sharks. 

While Nakanishi didn’t want to hear or talk about moral victories postgame, it’s apparent that his Hawai’i Pacific program is on the rise with eyes on more than just a PacWest Conference tournament berth. With all but one player expected to return to the Sharks next year, HPU doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere but up. 

Either way, Nakanishi says it’s back to work for his team as soon as possible. 

A PacWest championship is the goal – stated by Nakanishi himself. 

Thursday served as a setback, sure, but only makes for a greater comeback.