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There at home, you talk sports all the time with your friends, bartenders and even strangers — about the local teams; about the conference and league races; about favorite players; about bad calls, bad-boy players and bad breaks.
You think you’re going to miss that when you come to Hawaii, don’t you? No need.
Even though there are no pro teams here, we follow the pros. 49er, Raider, Giants and A’s games are carried on the radio here and we get all the sports channels on TV. We follow college football – especially teams where we or our kids have affiliations. And, as you might imagine, golf at all levels is big here. But in the bars and at gatherings, we talk mostly local.
The following will help you get up to speed with what we’re into these days so you can chime in and feel part of the conversation.
University of Hawaii football consumes us, almost all year round. The team went through its Western Athletic Conference undefeated last year, but got creamed by Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Head coach June Jones, who had a great nine-year run (75-41) and coached five All-Americans, 52 all-conference performers, and eight NFL draft picks, left for SMU end of this season. He has been replaced by his defensive coordinator, Greg McMackin, who inherits a potentially h3 defensive unit, but loses an All-American Heisman-candidate quarterback (Colt Brennann); four outstanding receivers and most of the excellent offensive line. The Warriors begin next season at Florida, and local fans are counting the days (85 at this writing).
We continue to follow local kids who move on to college or the pros. In football, these local NFL players who played here at UH or in high school particularly hold our interest:
Jason Elam • Kicker, Denver to Atlanta (All-Pro) Ashley Lelie • WR, San Francisco Jeff Ulbrich • LB, San Francisco Mat McBriar • Punter, Dallas (All-Pro) Samson Satele • C, Miami Pisa Tinosamoa • LB, St. Louis Olin Kreutz (U of Washington) • C, Chicago (All-Pro)
We expect that at least the five offensive stars (Brennan and receivers Jason Rivers, Davone Bess, Ryan Grice-Mullins and J.C. Hawthorne) have a good chance of being drafted this year.
This baseball season, Maui boy Shane Victorino (They call him “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” in Philly) is the Phillies’ regular center fielder, hitting above .280 and stealing bases for a pennant contender. Oakland’s regular catcher, Kurt Suzuki (also from Maui), is hitting around .260.
This year’s starting point guard for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, A.C. Carter, played for UH and had the opportunity to rack up assists for high-scoring Allen Iverson and Carmello Anthony.
Among pro golfers, local girl Michelle Wie is the most widely publicized. She made a splash nationally when, at age 12, she became the youngest player ever to qualify for an LPGA event. Two years later, she became the first female golfer to qualify for a USGA national men’s tournament. Now a student at Stanford, she has had a rocky pro career. In her first full year as a professional, she missed the cut in 11 out of 12 tries against men and remained winless in all 33 professional women’s tournaments she entered. Last year she continued missing cuts and lost favor when she withdrew from the Ginn Tribute, then was seen two days later practicing at the site of the LPGA Championship. This year, she played well and placed fifth in the German Open, reviving hope here in Hawaii that she will become a significant force on the LPGA Tour. We still love her.
The state’s newest phenom is diminutive (5 feet 1 inch tall) Tadd Fujikawa, who, playing as an amateur at age 15, qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open. Then, last year, he made the cut in a PGA Tour event at the Sony Open here in Hawaii. At 16, he was the second youngest player ever to do that. He turned pro last year and although he continues to shoot well and has won his first pro tournament (a local event), he has yet to make a significant professional impact. (He cannot join the PGA tour, if he qualifies for it, until he’s 18).
Two other PGA-tour golfers, Parker McLachlin and Dean Wilson, have Hawaii ties. Wilson has qualified for the upcoming US Open Championship.
So there you have it: a primer on sports in Hawaii. Get familiar with the foregoing and you can hold your own in any island sports conversation, in which your own input will be politely – even eagerly – accepted.