Those on the mainland may think of Hawaii basketball as just a late-night betting option, but the Rainbow Warriors are much more than that.
They have one of the best mid-major guards in the country in Eddie Stansberry and are led by interim head coach Chris Gerlufsen, who stepped in at the eleventh hour after head coach Eran Ganot announced he would take a medical leave of absence. Since then, Hawaii has started the season with a 6-3 record and expect Ganot to make a return in the near future.
Four days before the season started, acting head coach Chris Gerlufsen was contacted by five year head coach Eran Ganot with some bad news. Ganot was facing some heath issues, and thought he needed some time off coaching.
“He didn’t actually let me know the extent of what it was, but I didn’t know he had to take a leave until the day before he actually did it,” Gerlufsen said. “Which was four days before our first game. The team found out three days before our first game and we just rallied together. Everything happened really, really fast.”
As Gerlufsen said, they just rolled with it. That mentality has lead the Warriors to a 6-3 start to the season, with two of those losses against Power 5 schools on the road.
Hawaii has been led this year by Eddie Stansberry. The JUCO transfer was a solid player for the Warriors last year, averaging 11.3 PPG, but has turned it up to a new level this year.
Stansberry leads the team in scoring with 19.3 PPG, but is a top-100 player in eight offensive categories, including percentage of minutes played (third), offensive rating (58th), effective field goal percentage (81st) and three-point percentage (95th). Stansberry has scored at least 20 points in six out of the nine games he’s played this year, and has played all 40 minutes in three. His solid play on offense has made him one of the frontrunners for Big West Player of the Year.
Eddie says his off-ball and shooting work over the summer has helped him improve into what he is now. But he is still focusing on the teams growth throughout the season.
“It feels great. I’m trying to build off of it and grow on the team’s success,” Stansberry said.
His fellow guard Drew Buggs has really helped that success for both Stansberry and the team. Buggs is 80th in assist rate (31.9%) and is right up there with Stansberry for percentage of minutes played nationally.
“Drew complements Eddie. He always has his head up, values getting other people involved,” Gerlufsen said. “When you’re playing with a good point guard, that’s the best thing in the world you can get when you’re playing with a good shooter like Eddie.”
Gerlufsen is trying to take Hawaii to their first NCAA Tournament since 2016, when they upset California during Ganot’s first year as head coach.
But this is a brand new squad with a brand new coach, in a different Big West Conference.
The only other true contenders at this point in the Big West are UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara. The Anteaters upset Kansas State in the tournament last year. They lost leader Max Hazzard, who is now at Arizona, but return two key big men in Tommy Rutherford and Collin Welp.
UC Santa Barbara returned four double digit scorers from a year ago, and have had a less-than-ideal start to the season. At 6-3 their three losses are to Oregon State, UCLA and Rice, the latter of which came back from a 22-point deficit. Meanwhile, Cal State Northridge is 2-9 after losing reigning Big West Newcomer and Player of the Year Lamine Diane to eligibility issues.
Given the state of the Big West, the country might hear more about this Rainbow Warrior team and Stansberry later this season. Hawaii has the pieces (and location) to be a top mid-major for a long time.