UC Santa Barbara basketball team endures terrifying morning after false missile alert

UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack during the second half of a game earlier this season. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
UC Santa Barbara head coach Joe Pasternack during the second half of a game earlier this season. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Just after 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, the UC Santa Barbara men’s basketball traveling party awoke to the most terrifying news imaginable.

They received the same emergency alert others in Hawaii did mistakenly warning them of an incoming ballistic missile attack set to strike any minute.

Some players and coaches were jarred awake by the buzzing of their phones. Others only scrambled out of their beds when forward Leland King’s mother ran down the hallway of their Waikiki hotel in a panic knocking on doors and screaming for everyone to get up.

“We were either huddled in the bathroom, in the stairwells or out in the halls,” UCSB associate athletic director Bill Mahoney told Yahoo Sports. “The warning said to stay away from the windows. It was bizarre.”

Hawaii has been on high alert in recent weeks since tensions between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un escalated into nuclear threats. The state has even begun staging monthly air-raid drills, complete with wailing nuclear attack sirens, for the first time since the 1980s.

UCSB players and coaches had more reason to take the ballistic missile alert seriously than just the recent hostilities between the U.S. and North Korea. The largest fire on record in California swept through the Santa Barbara area last month and heavy rainfall incited the devastating Montecito mudslides this past week. Those who didn’t receive emergency alerts in time or didn’t take them seriously enough often paid a steep price.

Officials with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told the New York Times that Saturday’s mistaken alert was a result of human error. Someone “clicked the wrong thing” on a computer during a shift-change drill, spokesman Richard Rapoza told the newspaper.

Since it took roughly 40 minutes for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to rescind the alert, UCSB players continued to cower in bathtubs or under stairwells for quite awhile. Only after someone sent a group text to meet in the hotel lobby did players and coaches come downstairs, many of them still getting dressed as they made their way down.

“When we got to the lobby, we were figuring out where to go when it soon became apparent it was a mistake,” Mahoney said. “There were no sirens and the hotel staff was in contact with the authorities. Not long after that we received another alert that said the first one was false.

“I think most of the guys felt worse for the natives working in the hotel. Some of them were really, really disturbed and very emotional.”

UCSB’s day didn’t get much better once its road game at Hawaii tipped off just after 7 p.m. local time. In a battle of Big West title contenders, the Rainbow Warriors (12-5, 3-1) held off a late surge from the Gauchos (12-5, 1-2) to emerge with a 77-76 victory.

Hawaii may have enjoyed a slight advantage over UCSB in preparing for the game. While the Gauchos were just happy to be safe after their harrowing morning, A Hawaii basketball spokesman said the Rainbow Warriors were unaffected by the alert.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!