UH Hoops Exodus Is Troubling

I am usually an optimist. I like to find the good in any given situation, and I think that comes across in my writing. I prefer to look at the big picture and see right rather than wrong.

That said, there is something going on with the UH men’s basketball program. I wrote earlier this year that Coach Gib Arnold’s squad had the talent to be playing postseason ball in March. It didn’t end up that way, but the team fought hard and seemed to be growing up together. We know Arnold can recruit, but he also has a great approach to both game management and the way he deals with players.

Yet the fact remains that four rotation players left the program this offseason, two of them expected to be cornerstones of next year’s team. Joston Thomas elected to forego his senior season to explore his pro possibilities, and Shaquille Stokes, Trevor Wiseman and Bobby Miles have all decided to transfer. Their reasons could be coincidental and merely unfortunate timing for the UH program. But it’s rare for this number of key players to leave unexpectedly.

Thomas wasn’t previously projected as an NBA draft pick, so his decision was a surprise. That’s not to say it was a mistake, because there are many places to play pro basketball, and it couldn’t have been a decision he arrived at easily. He has an NBA body and he’s a hard worker with a diverse skill set. But leaving without obvious NBA interest leads one to believe that his reasons to stay at UH also were lacking.

As far as the transfers, Stokes was just a freshman and came all the way from New York City. He had some family issues late in the season, so the idea of leaving had already been on his mind. It’s a shame he won’t be around; his performance in the team’s final two games gave what seemed to be a glimpse of great things to come, with the starting point guard slot his for the taking.

Wiseman was a key defensive contributor from the day he stepped on the court, and Miles, though never showing much in the box score, stepped in as a starter for part of this season and was a role player during his two years.

Now, it could all be just bad timing or simply a matter of location. Sometimes we forget how far out in the Pacific we are. Having friends and family so far away must be difficult for young men from the Mainland who are still developing into adults.

But the point is that just when Arnold and the program were cultivating a sense of self, a culture, an identity, it has been almost entirely stripped away to start anew.

UH isn’t meant to be like Kentucky, where one and done is normal, or even encouraged. The elite national players aren’t headed this way, at least not right now. UH needs stability to breed success. If players are leaving for internal reasons, the staff needs to identify those situations and determine some solutions.

One of the country’s best true centers, Vander Joaquim, returns next year as a senior. What was supposed to be a familiar group surrounding the big man will now look very different. He is emblematic of what the program should be striving for and, hopefully, he won’t be the final senior Arnold has time to develop.