Casting An Early Ballot For Benjy

Hawaii head coach Benjy Taylor hugs Hawaii guard Garrett Nevels during Senior Night festivities following a loss to UC-Santa Barbara in the Rainbow Warriors' final home game JAMM AQUINO PHOTO/HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

Hawaii head coach Benjy Taylor hugs Hawaii guard Garrett Nevels during Senior Night festivities following a loss to UC-Santa Barbara in the Rainbow Warriors’ final home game JAMM AQUINO PHOTO/HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

I can’t wait to vote.

No, I’m not talking about the opportunity to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Who, save right-wing ideologues, could support those Republicans who spoke at the recent CPAC convention in Washington?

I mean really. “Sit down and shut up!” Chris Christie? Sen. Ted “Let’s shut down the government!” Cruz? Or Jeb “I love my mom, I love my dad, I love my brother, but I’m my own man!” Bush? Or the winner of CPAC’s straw poll, Rand, or is it Ron, Paul? Whichever, he’s also Daddy’s boy.

Or Hillary? I so want to vote for Hillary. Naaah. Like the Bushes and Pauls, the Clintons have been too much with us.

But can I think of an alternative? No, I can’t.

Still, I do want to cast a ballot now, loudly and proudly, for Benjy Taylor as the next basketball coach at University of Hawaii.

“Basketball!” screams the critic. “We come here to read of politics, policy, serious matters. And you give us basketball?”

You bet, because basketball soothes the soul. Don’t believe me? Watch Hoosiers again. Or YouTube Kansas State fans swarming the court after their team’s recent victory over KU. Those are happy kids, no matter how poorly they had done that morning on a midterm exam.

Sure, basketball can frustrate as well, even sadden.

But not Benjy Taylor’s team, not this year. Even when they lost in the last seconds of a game, even when they were blown out, they had moments — “runs” — that left their fans breathless.

Taylor encouraged those runs. More important, he demanded that his team play defense, and they did. They pressed their opponents in the backcourt. They double-teamed the isolated guard, forcing turnovers. They stuffed their opponents at the rim.

For the 2014-15 UH men were, first and foremost, thieves. Guards Roderick Bobbitt, Isaac Fleming and Quincy Smith, and forwards Garrett Nevels, Aaron Valdes and Negus Webster-Chan clawed and slapped all season long, turning steals into breakaways and baskets.

Under Benjy Taylor’s tutelage, all these players, plus big men Mike Thomas and the two Stefans, Jankovic and Jovanovic (get those two straightened out and you get a free Farmer’s Insurance T-shirt), proved themselves winners.

As I write, the team has won 19 games, lost 12. By the time MidWeek arrives in your mailbox, they may have notched their 20th win.

Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter.

Because Taylor and his young players saved the basketball program from disaster. An NCAA investigation had found irregularities and threatened sanctions. The university fired head coach Gib Arnold. The team’s best returning player, Isaac Fotu, left the team and turned pro.

Other schools made overtures to what was left of Arnold’s recruits, but they stayed, and Taylor played a key role in keeping them together.

If you’ve watched him work the sidelines of a UH game, you’ll understand how. Benjy Taylor encourages. He doesn’t humiliate. He coaches to his players’ strengths. He’s always trying to get his bench playing time. And he brings passion to every game, every night.

Taylor doesn’t need my vote.

He’s earned the job.