Larry Little, head basketball coach of the Hawaii Rainbows, apparently doesn't recruit much in Southern California. But maybe he should.
Little, a 1962 graduate of Illinois State at Normal, had remarkable success at Centenary College in Shreveport, La., the first time he was a head coach in a four-year college basketball program. With center Robert Parish (now with the Boston Celtics) playing for Little and Centenary, the Gents finished with a 21-4 record in 1974 and were 25-4 in 1975 and 22-5 in 1976. Little's five-year record was a sparkling 100-33.
Little took over Hawaii's program in the 1976-77 season, and success in the islands was not as easy as at Centenary; his eight-year record with the Rainbows through the 1983-84 season is a drab 93-125. And his job is apparently on the line if Hawaii has another losing season.
On the morning before Hawaii opened this season at home with a 79-78 win over Pepperdine, Honolulu Advertiser staff writer Andy Yamaguchi wrote, "Little has been told that this season will be his last unless he can resuscitate success on the court and at the box office."
Little's roots are in the Midwest and the South, and that's where he seems to get most of his players. Not one this year is from Southern California.
Chaminade Coach Merv Lopes, Hawaii Pacific Coach Paul Smith and Brigham Young Hawaii Coach Ted Chidester get a lot of their players from Southern California, and the imported athletes do those schools a lot of good on the court.
Lopes' teams in recent years have included 6-6 forward Will Pounds, now a part-time Chaminade assistant coach, and 6-5 forward Earnest Pettway, both from Pasadena, and a trio of players from Hamilton High School: 6-4 forward Michael (Tex) Parker, who played in 1981 and 1982; 6-2 point guard Mark Wells ('81-'83) and 5-11 guard Walter Carpenter, a freshman who made this year's team as a walk-on.
Mike Vasconcellos, Chaminade athletic director, said that Wells, who played a large role in Chaminade's big year of 1982 (when the Silverswords upset Virginia), was recruited by Lopes while Wells was a student at Santa Monica College.
Vasconcellos said, "Wells was shooting hoops in a park, Merv asked him if he wanted to come to Paradise, and he accepted."
He said that when Lopes first took over Hawaii's basketball program in the 1977-78 season "there was basketball on the islands, but none of the local athletes could be recruited because they had no kind of talent to play" in a college program that aspired to greatness.
That situation has changed, he said, and Chaminade gets top local players, but few of them are the tall timber required to go against the 6-9 forwards and 7-foot centers of mainland teams. Now, he said, Chaminade has locals but supplements them with the big guys from the mainland.
The beauty of Hawaii--and Hawaii's beauties--usually overcome any reluctance a recruit may have about going to school so far from home. "In order for us to win, we have to take advantage of what we've got," said Vasconcellos.
Then he jokes, but it is kidding partly on the square: "We take them out for canoeing and surfing and a lot of wild women. We utilize our resources."
So do the other colleges.
The Hawaii basketball guide this year uses the same technique to sell its program as Detroit employs to sell cars: girls. The guide shows four uniformed players posing on top of the cabin of a luxury yacht, and they are surrounded by smiling, bikini-clad co-eds.
Hawaii Pacific Coach Smith, in his second year in that basketball program but before that a successful coach for 18 years at Servite, Los Angeles Baptist, Ramona and Oxnard high schools, also gets his big guys from Southern California. He says the beauty and good weather are easy to sell to prospects and the hard part is the remoteness of the islands.
"In some ways, it is the magic of Hawaii," said Smith, whose record of 19-16 last year was the best in the short basketball history of Hawaii Pacific, which fielded its first team in 1979-80.
"The weather in Southern California is nearly as good--but not year-round. Honolulu is a pretty decent city to live in. It's beautiful here, we have shorts and T-shirt weather year-round, and there is a little bit of action going on in the Waikiki area."
Smith, 45, has been selling Hawaii to major-college basketball teams who are starting to visit the islands in large numbers to play local schools. Since the schedule has become tougher, he said, "there is no question that you have to recruit mainland athletes to be competitive.
"There are very few big kids in high school programs here, and the great athletes are basically football players who are maybe 5-10 or 6-1. If you play a major college schedule, you gotta have some big folks."