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New era tips-off for HPU basketball

by Baxter Cepeda, Sports editor & Derek Clarkston, accosiate editor


The HPU men’s basketball team will begin a new era Nov. 14 when they step on to the court for the first time in 14 seasons without their former Head Coach Tony Sellito.

Sellito took HPU to a NAIA national championship in 1993, the only national championship basketball team to come from Hawai‘i. Taking over for Sellito is long-time Assistant Coach Russell Dung, who hopes to continue the success of the Sea Warriors program.

Dung will inherit a team that went 18-9 overall and 9-6 in PacWest conference play last year, but most of last year’s team has graduated, including the four top scorers. HPU has only five players returning, meaning that there are nine new faces on the Sea Warrior roster this season.

Nate Block (6-7, 225), a senior in his second year at HPU, will have to work on his shooting as he is coming off a shoulder injury that minimized him to 4.8 points per game last year. Block's ability to defend bigger men, along with leading the team in rebounding (6.7) last year and his “leadership by example” should put him in the starting lineup at forward, Dung said. “Nate is a blue collar type of player. He will play defense on the toughest big man,” Dung said. “He rebounds, runs the floor, is healthy now, and should be able to produce offensively.” Block will co-captain with NicWalters.

Walters (6-0, 170), is a senior who did not get a start last year but who averaged 5.7 points and 2.2 assists in 13.8 minutes a game. “He has a lot of athletic ability and can definitely score,” Dung said of his starting point guard, a position he sees as an extension of the coach. “He is a very creative point guard, which is a very important position. Nic understands the game very well, is very knowledgeable and smart, and sees the floor well.”

Leandro Maruoka (6-8, 220), a Brazilian who started six games last season, will start at center. “He has a lot of game and conference experience,” Dung said. “He definately has the ability to score points. He is a good shooter: he can shoot from the free-throw line and extended in that area, as well as down low.” The senior, who averaged 4.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.3 minutes a game last year, is more of a strong forward than a center,” Dung said. “He is a good rebounder, a very smart player. We are looking for him to be another leader on the floor because of all his experince.”

The other starting forward, Ty Riley (6-4, 210), who was used sparingly last season, can also play shooting guard. “He is good in the open floor; he has good ball-handling skills; he can get to the basket and finish,” Dung said. “He has good vision, so he is a good passer.” Dung added that Riley’s experience will also get him a lot of action, but that he would like to see the junior work on getting his jump shot to be more consistent. Since the team will play a balanced offense, in which traditional positions are not always used, Riley will see time at guard. “We’re giving him the starting nod (at small forward) as of now,” Dung said.

Jacob Avilla (5-10, 170), the only underclassmen on the team, will probably not start but will see some action in his second year as a Sea Warrior. “He is still young, but I watched Jacob over the summer, and he has developed into a much-improved player from last year,” Dung said. “He has improved his scoring a lot and his ball handling.” Avilla, who only played eight minutes last year, is still in the running for the starting shooting guard position.

Those five combined for only 23 starts and accounted for only 21.6 percent of HPU’s total scoring output from last season, which leaves the team without a proven early offensive threat. “We will probably have to score by committee because we don’t have a prolific scorer yet,” said Dung. “You may see different leading scorers each game, or maybe a steady scorer but not a prolific scorer.”

What HPU really lost was the outside threat, which the Sea Warriors relied on much of last season. Nash Subotic and Nick Spajic set the tone early and often last year, both hitting above .300 from behind the arch. With both of them gone, Dung is looking for a different style of play.

Early on they will look inside to their more experienced players, Block and Maruoka, to carry the load offensively. As the season develops the coach is hoping that the new guys will start contributing at the offensive end.

When the Sea Warriors are not going down low, they hope to play a fast-paced type of game, a transitional style of play, that will see the guards push the ball up the floor more than last year's team, Dung said.

To succeed at the fast game that Dung wants to run, the Sea Warriors are focusing on the defensive aspect of the game. Dung wants to force turnovers in the full court press. “We feel that if we put a lot of defensive pressure on team, it will create a lot more offensive opportunities for us,” said Dung. “We are looking at that type of game throughout the year.”

Aaron Abrahams
Albert Tecul Real
Derek Noyas
Fabrizio Mendiola
Jacob Avilla
Jay Bussey
Kapena O'Neil
Leandro Maruoka
Marvin Noble
Mike Baron
Nate Block
Nic Walters
Rashad Davis
Zak Stephens

Playing fast basketball can cause sloppy play at times, resulting in turnovers, something Dung is aware of. “I don’t think we want to make it a structured style of play where you pass the ball for about 30 seconds and then shoot. I think we want to be more action packed,”

The starting shooting guard, the most uncertain position, should go to junior Marvin Noble (5-11, 180), who starts his first year at HPU after averaging 15 points and nine assists last season at Clackamas Community College. “That’s a lot of assists for anybody,” said Dung. “Marvin is probably a true point guard.” But when starting, the junior will play out of his ideal position because of Walters. “Marvin has a lot of talent; he is quick, and can penetrate,” Dung said. “Marvin sees the floor.” Dung added that Noble would rather look for the pass first.

“So, if we are playing a small quick team, Marvin and Nic could play at the same time, but if we play a bigger team, we will change the personnel: we might have Noble and Avilla substituting. We can change the lineup a lot.”

Aaron Abrahams (6-4, 205), a junior who three years ago played for the University of Wyoming in HPU's Thanksgiving Classic, “loves Hawai‘i;” Dung said. “He has great athletic ability; he is an all-state player coming out of the San Diego area who went right to a Division I program, so he definitely has DI talent.” Abrahams was found through scouting services while he attended Palomar Junior College last season. “Looking at him, we thought Aaron could definitely come in and help us because we had lost so many guards.” Dung said he expects Abrahams, who will play the two and three position, “to give us a little scoring punch because he can go to the basket strong and finish, and he has an outside shot.”

Jay Bussey (6-5, 220), who red-shirted last year, is coming off knee surgery. “He has worked his way back into shape,” Dung said. “Right now we have him in the low post rotating but I think Jay sooner or later will be able to swing, either go inside or outside. He is a great athlete, but he needs to get more comfortable on the floor because he has been out a year.”

Junior Mike Baron (6-6, 191), from Germany, in his first season at HPU out of the College of Siskiyous, “He is very athletic. He can jump, he can go inside and outside,” Dung said. “Another versatile player, he is very strong and can defend.We're looking for good things from him too.”

Senior Rashad Davis (6-8, 215), Orlando Magic star Tracy Mcgrady’s cousin, is a Div. I transfer from Morris Brown, an independent school in Georgia. “The stock is good, the body and the numbers are good,” Dung said. “Rashad is a good addition; he’ll help strengthen the front line; he's a scoring threat, he has a good outside shot, gives us another body to rotate, and comes from a divison one program so you know he has division one talent.”

Fabrizio Mendiola (6-2, 175), a left-handed junior shooting guard who was on a northwest collegiant championship team at Tacoma Community College, “definately gives us an outside shot. A very heady player, he will not take a bad shot,” Dung said. Mendiola averaged 15 points last year shooting 40-percent from the three-point line.

Junior Derek Noyes (6-4, 200), an all-state player from the Colorado area, will give the Sea Warriors a lot of depth at the shooting guard position, Dung said. “He can score. He can go inside and outside. He is a very big guard and has a lot of athletic ability.” Noyes has rehabilitated a shoulder injury which kept him out last year.

From Spain, junior Albert Tecul Real (5-4, 185), joins HPU out of Pensacola Junior College, where he played the point. “He has a lot of ball-handling abilities but he can also shoot the ball as the two guard, so we don’t lose any ball-handling opportunites with him on the floor, either at the one or the two.”

Junior guard Zak Stephens (6-1, 170) returns to the Sea Warrior program after taking last year off. “He is a very smart player who is always hustling,” Dung said.

So, will the pieces work? “Chemistry is always a question mark every coach has,” Dung said. “It hasn’t come yet, but probably will by our first competition in November. If we can get a couple of victories early, hopefully it will snowball into being successful in December. By the time conference play comes around, we will be ready to compete with most of the teams.”



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