Monday | December 11, 2017
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College basketball: Vulcans primed to roll out reinforcements

Brian Ishola was a one-man force inside last season for UH-Hilo, so if the undermanned Vulcans would have had to make a trip to the mainland last year without their lone post presence, there would have been a feeling of uncertainty.

Actually, that’s putting it mildly.

“We were definitely screwed,” point guard Ryley Callaghan said of theoretical situation that is now a reality.

UH-Hilo left for the Pacific Northwest earlier this week without its standout senior forward, but lingering doubts weren’t welcome aboard the Vulcans’ plane to Washington.

Another feeling has taken hold, according to Callaghan.

“Super confident,” he said. “Brian was, I think, our tallest player, and this year he’s third or fourth.”

“I really think it’s easier,” Callaghan said. “Last year we were perimeter-oriented, and we had to be, so teams would focus on us. Now when you get the ball, inside it’s going to open things up.

“It makes life easier on the guards.”

The Vulcans have yet to produce a winning record as GE Coleman enters his fifth year at the helm of the program – UHH’s last winning season was 2010-11 – but that’s not what has him anxious heading into a season-opening road trip that starts Friday against Simon Fraser of British Columbia and continues Saturday against Western Washington, ranked 22nd, at the PacWest/GNAC Challenge.

“We have depth, and I feel very comfortable with the team we have traveling,” Coleman said.

The five-game trip is a grind by design, setting the Vulcans up for the real challenge, the Pacific West Conference season and the rigors and stress created by separate trips to southern and northern California.

“We need to play somebody, and as a coach you think you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, but you need to play somebody to get it on film.

“That will give us a baseline of what we need to get better at and what we can hang our hat on.”

Experience should be a team strength.

Ishola was left home to heal a previous injury, Coleman said, but the Vulcans return three players with starting experience (Callaghan, forward Randan Berinobis and guard Eric Wattree II) and that number is higher when you consider some of the newcomers aren’t so new to Division II.

The Vuls were selected 10th in the preseason PacWest poll, but when healthy UHH could suit up four players who averaged double figures in scoring last season.

That list includes combo guard Tre Ingram, who Callaghan calls “a stud.”

The senior has reached double figures in points all three seasons at Saint Martin’s, UH-Hilo’s opponent on Tuesday, hitting 42 percent from 3-point range as a junior.

“He can shoot, but he’s also a good passer, and he can also get to the rim,” Coleman said. “Very quick.”

The reinforcements inside include 6-foot-7 forward Devin Johnson and 6-8 forward Denhym Brooke, a proven PacWest rebounder and shot blocker at BYU-Hawaii.

As he has much of the preseason, Johnson caught Callaghan’s eye last weekend at practice. The athletic junior was a stalwart defensively and on the boards last season at Lower Columbia CC in Washington.

“Explosive,” Callaghan said. “Devin’s played the best basketball I’ve seen out of him since we’ve been out here.”

The steady and hard-working Berinobis, a senior who averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds a game last season, gives Coleman the luxury of bringing Brooke, the conference’a second-leading blocker and seventh-best rebounder last season, off the bench.

Wattree III, a 6-3 sophomore, has matured offensively, Callaghan said, and guards Mike Golden, a senior transfer, and freshman Cleo Cain, could make their debuts Friday as well. Freshman Will Burghardt backs up Callaghan at point guard.

“How we rebound will be interesting and I want to see how we play defense,” Coleman said. “Those are two things I’m excited to see right away.”

After playing in Seattle Nov. 17-18 against Central Washington and Seattle Pacific, the Vuls come home and have more than 10 days to prepare for their conference opener at home Nov. 30 against Cal Baptist.

By then, the Vulcans may be ready to welcome back the double-double machine that is Ishola.

“We’re not going to think about it,” Callaghan said. “We want him to get healthy, and when he’s (ready), it’s going to help us that much more.”


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