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.

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. 

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

Three HPU Sharks selected to All-PacWest teams ahead of conference tournament

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 6, 2024

SAN DIEGO – The Hawai’i Pacific Sharks men’s basketball team received three honors from the PacWest Conference on Wednesday afternoon as guard Melo Sanchez was placed on the conference’s 2nd-team while Diggy Winbush and Maj Dusanic each received 3rd-team recognition. 

It was the first time any of the three had received end-of-year PacWest honors. 

The 2nd-team selection for Sanchez is the highest placement for a Shark since the 2020-21 season when Lachlan Viney made 1st-team. The sophomore shooter returned to HPU from the transfer portal this past offseason and put in work, finishing the regular season averaging the 9th-most points-per-game of any player in the league. The 6-foot-4 sniper also finished 2nd in the conference with 70 made 3-pointers this season, trailing only Azusa Pacific’s Ken West. 

Winbush, who joined the Sharks extremely late after last season and snatched the starting point guard job quickly, received 3rd-team honors in his first season at the Division II level. The Los Angeles, California product averaged the 4th-most assists per game of any player in the conference for the entire year and 2nd-most after league play began. Winbush also led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio with 80 dimes to just 43 giveaways while averaging the 2nd-highest point total on the team. 

Dusanic was also named to the PacWest Conference’s 3rd-team after a fantastic second season in blue and grey as the captain forward poured in averages of over 11 points, five rebounds and two assists per game on a scorching 62% from the field, all while starting every one of HPU’s 28 contests this season. The Slovenian forward nearly doubled his scoring output from a year ago while posting three double-doubles, helping push the Sharks to the 3rd-best record in the league. HPU was predicted to finish 9th out of 11 teams in the preseason PacWest coach’s poll. 

Hawai’i Pacific will take on 6th-seeded Azusa Pacific on Thursday in San Diego, California in the quarterfinals of the PacWest Tournament with tip-off scheduled for 10:30 a.m. HT and will be broadcast on Hawai’i Sports Radio Network, 95.1 FM, AM 760 and hawaiisportsradio.com. The winner will face #2 seed and regular season co-champion Academy of Art on Friday at 10:30 a.m. HT in the semifinals. 

The Cougars, who were selected in the preseason as the conference’s top team, are led by three-time PacWest 1st-team selection Ken West and are looking to avenge last year’s performance when APU fell to Point Loma in the title game, 80-68. 

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

HPU 1st-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi flashes a double thumbs-up to the home crowd following the Sharks’ 77-72 victory on Senior Night over Chaminade. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

HPU uses defense, paint dominance on Senior Night to down Chaminade

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 29, 2024

HONOLULU – Alright, we know where we are dancing. 

The Hawai’i Pacific University men’s basketball team finished the 2023-24 home schedule flying high, taking down island rival Chaminade on Senior Night with a 77-72 victory as forward Maj Dusanic led the Sharks in front of a packed “Shark Tank” with 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting. The victory clinched a top-three seeding for first-year head coach Jesse Nakanishi’s squad in the PacWest Tournament as HPU returns to postseason play for the first time since the 2016-17 season. 

Before tip-off, the Sharks (18-9, 13-6 PacWest) would honor the only graduating senior in guard Tyrease Terrell – a transfer from Nicholls College and a Slidell, Louisiana-native that joined the program this past offseason in hopes of helping HPU turn around their recent luck on the men’s side. The 6-foot-3 graduate student has dealt with various adversities throughout his single year in the program – including missing playing in his own Senior Night due to a head injury – but always did it with a smile on his face. He was surprised with a video message from his close friends and family along with the Noelani students he has mentored and worked with in the “Shark Bite Mentorship Program” this year on O’ahu. 

Class A7 at the school signed a ball and made a poster in support of the guard’s big night and recorded a “thank you” video for the class favorite that was tear-provoking. 

Much like the women’s game from just before, Chaminade looked as though they would play spoiler of the Sharks’ celebration of Terrell – the lone graduating member of the HPU men’s roster – as the visitors opened an early 5-point lead over the Sharks after Scott Ator’s finish inside five minutes into the action. 

The Silverswords continued the early attack as sophomore standout Ross Reeves got in on the fun with five points in under 40 seconds to put CUH ahead by eight with 13:05 remaining in the first half, 17-9. HPU settled in with a pair of Dusanic finishes under the rim before Jacob Kimura’s first 3-point make of the season brought the Sharks within two just over 11 minutes before halftime. 

Charlie Weber followed it up 66 seconds later with a triple of his own to push the hosts ahead by one before getting fouled on another 3-point try and knocking in all three freebies. Matt Van Komen got on the board for the first time a minute after, giving HPU a six-point advantage with 8:02 to play in the half. 

Dusanic added two more buckets in the following minutes, helping HPU maintain the slim lead before some late-clock chaos struck. Turnovers, cold-shooting and Chaminade’s Reeves and Isaac Amaral-Artharee catching fire with a 12-5 run to end the half sent the visitors into the locker room leading by one, 40-39. 

“We came out of the gates slow,” Nakanishi said of his team’s first half performance. “We’re one of the better defensive teams [in the PacWest conference] and we gave up 40 in the 1st half, so a little slow but at least we scored [well in the 1st half].” 

Much like their counterparts before them, HPU quickly opened the 2nd half with some hot long-range shooting as Melo Sanchez drilled a triple before Diggy Winbush got loose for eight consecutive Sharks points (2 3PTM) to push HPU back in front, 50-46. After Amaral-Artharee and Van Komen traded 2-for-2 trips to the charity stripe, Winbush added another jumper to give Hawai’i Pacific a six-point advantage just under seven minutes into the second half. 

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Chaminade’s Kelton Samore pulled the Silverswords back within two, but back-to-back dunks (including an alley-oop) from the 7-foot-4 Van Komen gave the momentum right back to the Sharks. 

Each side continued trading baskets until Wyatt Lowell’s three with 8:09 to play gave the lead back to Chaminade, 63-62. Another HPU dunk, this time by Dusanic, pushed the Sharks back ahead momentarily until Jessiya Villa got a close-range shot to drop on the next possession for CUH. 

After a 30-second timeout from Nakanishi and HPU, the Sharks got another immediate boost in the arm with 7:08 left as Kimura drained a left-corner three – his second 3-point make of the season – putting the hosts in front for good. 

Dusanic provided some breathing room with another set of back-to-back scores for the team before Lowell brought Chaminade within three once again with 4:41 to play. Van Komen layed in another close-range try and Dusanic scored his 17th and 18th points of the night on the next possession to put the Sharks back up by seven with three and a half minutes left in regulation. 

“We really tried to make them guard more than one ball screen, more than one action and that’s where teams often lose guys like [Van Komen and Dusanic] a bit,” Nakanishi said of the 2nd half dominance in the paint. 

HPU, the top statistical defense in the PacWest going into the night according to points per game allowed, flexed that defensive might as they held Chaminade to four points over the final 3:37 to close out the win on Senior Night, 77-72. 

Chaminade was led by Wyatt Lowell’s 18 points as the senior forward went 3-of-8 from distance in the loss. Ross Reeves finished with 15 points, being held to just two after halftime as the Sharks keyed in on the standout sophomore. Isaac Amaral-Artharee ended his Chaminade Silverswords career with a 10-point outing, bringing his career total to 1,732 points and placing him second all-time in program scoring history. 

Hawai’i Pacific’s Maj Dusanic paced the Sharks with 18 points and 11 rebounds, tallying his third double-double of the season as the forward shot 9-of-10 from the floor. Diggy Winbush added 17 points while tying a season-best seven assists for HPU while Melo Sanchez and Matt Van Komen each chipped in 12 points in the victory. 

The loss ends an injury-riddled season for the Chaminade Silverswords, who finished the year at 10-18 overall and just 6-14 in PacWest play. Junior guard and third-leading scorer Jamir Thomas missed the final eight games of the season for Chaminade after tallying 11.6 points per game across 20 contests. 

“It felt good to get the win but not our best performance,” Nakanishi gave as an evaluation of the night. “[Chaminade]’s a tough team. They’ve got playmakers and they’ve got shot makers.” 

Hawai’i Pacific still has one more regular season game to play, visiting the University of Hawai’i-Hilo on Saturday before preparing for a long-awaited return to the conference tournament. The Sharks will look for a season sweep over UH-Hilo, who has also clinched a spot in next week’s PacWest tournament and is battling with Biola for the rights to the fourth seed over the fifth seed. 

HPU locked themselves into the third seed ahead of next week’s PacWest Tournament in San Diego, California with the win, regardless of Saturday’s result against the University of Hawai’i-Hilo.  

“I’m very proud of our guys,” Nakanishi said of clinching the PacWest’s three-seed. “It does mean a lot that we can get in the conference tournament and not just squeeze in there … we fell short of winning a regular-season championship, but we’ve got as good chance as anybody to go win it in the [PacWest] tournament.”