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.