Hawaii's collection of men's basketball seniors celebrated

Mar. 8—There were unique paths that shaped the Hawaii basketball team's family circle.

There were unique paths that shaped the Hawaii basketball team's family circle.

Center Bernardo da Silva committed to BYU, then de-committed, then signed with the Rainbow Warriors five years ago.

During the pandemic, guards Noel Coleman and JoVon McClanahan were recruited through Zoom calls. When they arrived in July 2021, the locker room was closed, players and coaches wore masks, and practices were conducted without a ball during summer workouts.

After undergoing four season-ending injuries, guard Juan Munoz, who began his career at Longwood, was granted an eighth year of eligibility.

Forward Justin McKoy transferred from North Carolina and guard Matt Cotton from Yale last summer.

"They're family, " coach Eran Ganot said of the six seniors who will be celebrated following Saturday's regular-season finale against Cal State Bakersfield in SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. "I wish I could coach them forever. We all know that's not possible. But we're going to enjoy the heck out of coaching them now. We're going to celebrate the heck out of them."

During the emotions of senior week, Ganot said, "What hits you is the journey. Not always that exact moment, but the journey. When I see each of those seniors ... how far they've come, what they had to battle through."

Da Silva has conquered hand and foot injuries to become an accurate low-post scorer and imposing rim protector. Coleman, a three-tier scorer and aggressive defender, came back from an orbital fracture suffered two years ago. McClanahan, who hit the winning shot in the championship game of the 2022 Diamond Head Classic, endured a shoulder injury this year.

After recovering from two ACL injuries at Longwood, Munoz suffered a torn ACL in his left knee ahead of UH's 2021-22 season. In November 2022, he scored 16 points in 20 minutes in an exhibition against Hawaii Hilo. But in the second half, Munoz suffered a season-ending injury to his left Achilles. Ganot said he "remembered being with Juan two different times going into surgery."

This year, Munoz has started 13 games a row, during which the'Bows are 8-5.

"You could argue (he is ) the greatest story in college basketball this year, " Ganot said. "How often will you see a guy come back from four season-ending injuries, be in his eighth year, and every time he's had a setback it's been early in his road to recovery and come right back ? Sometimes you'll see those guys play a little bit or get a minute here and there. He's been an impactful player especially during the stretch. It's been impressive."

After the'Bows were eliminated from last year's Big West Tournament, Ganot traveled to North Carolina to continue the pursuit of McKoy, who had entered the transfer portal. McKoy, who was a high school teammate of Munoz's, has played the four and five positions for UH while providing scoring from behind the arc and in the paint.

Cotton, who started the first 12 games, has provided leadership despite limited minutes.

"All those moments come back in your mind, " Ganot said. "They've done an incredible job for us in every way. We want to send them out the right way. On the floor, off the floor, they're incredible human beings."

With the portal, unrestricted transfer rules and NIL deals, Ganot acknowledged the uniqueness of having three players in his program for at least four seasons.

"In this day and age, Bernardo, JoVon and Noel fit the mold of the type of guys who would leave some programs, " Ganot said. "When people ask me what made them come back, Hawaii made them come back. I think it's been all encompassing. It's their love for each other. It's their love for Hawaii, the university, the athletic department, our fans. It's been like home. The No. 1 thing you can do for your student-athletes is make them feel at home. We've had help with that because of the quality of people in Hawaii."

Coleman, who earned a degree last year, turned down opportunities to leave the program. "It was pretty easy because of the support system here, " Coleman said. "The family that we built over the years. The state of Hawaii. The people here are so generous and welcoming."

During the pandemic, Coleman could not visit his family in Belgium for two years. But Coleman befriended "Auntie Wendy " Young, whose family "became part of my family."

They often shared meals and went to the movies. "I gained a connection with her and her family that I haven't had in a long time, " Coleman said. "It definitely made me feel at home."

BIG WEST BASKETBALL At SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center CAL STATE BAKERSFIELD (13-17, 8-11 BW ) VS. HAWAII (18-13, 10-9 BW )—When : 7 :05 p.m. Saturday—TV : Spectrum Sports—Radio : 1420-AM, 92.7-FM—Promotion : As part of "WhiteOut Night, " 2, 000 white shirts will be distributed to fans entering through Gate A.