The final shot of Noel Coleman’s 2022-2023 season was glorious in the moment.
After taking a dribble handoff to his right, the left-handed Coleman gained separation with a pump fake, drilling a 3-pointer at the buzzer to send Hawaii to overtime in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals against Cal State Fullerton.
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Coleman was held scoreless in overtime as the Rainbow Warriors lost 62-60 to the Titans, an emotional end to a season that started with so much promise, particularly after the ‘Bows won the Diamond Head Classic for the first time in over a dozen tries on Christmas Day. Instead, Hawaii’s postseason drought reached seven years with the loss.
“It was definitely emotional because that’s not how we wanted to end the season at all,” Coleman recalled during the team’s 2023-2024 media day. “We wanted to move forward to the NCAA Tournament, but it didn’t happen for us. Having a chance after hitting that shot, it was definitely an emotional moment for everybody in the locker room for those who had their season end and those who had their college careers end, too. I’m excited to run it back and make it further than that.”
With one year of college eligibility remaining, Coleman decided to spend it in Hawaii. The Belgium native originally committed to UH after playing sparingly as a freshman at the University of San Diego in the 2019-2020 season, following former USD assistant and ‘Bows interim head coach Chris Gerlufsen to the islands.
Coleman admits he was “iffy” about staying when Gerlufsen departed for the University of San Francisco, where he’s now the head coach, but the guard emerged as one of UH’s top scoring options in the years since. With 809 points in a Hawaii uniform, Coleman is on pace to become the program’s 17th 1,000-point career scorer and first since Christian Standhardinger in the 2013-2014 season.
“The (remaining) coaches kept reassuring me like, ‘Look, nothing’s gonna change for you here. We trust you.’ That was the biggest thing with me. I saw that they trusted me, so I had full trust in them as well,” Coleman recalled of his decision to stay.
Joining Coleman in the Hawaii backcourt is point guard JoVon McClanahan, who supplied the program’s most memorable moment of the decade thus far with his buzzer-beating 3 to defeat SMU in the 2022 Diamond Head Classic title game. Like Coleman, he joined UH prior to the 2020-2021 season out of Sheridan College in Wyoming, choosing the ‘Bows over the likes of Washington State, UC Santa Barbara, Utah Valley, Cal State Fullerton and Montana State.
McClanahan went on to average 11.3 points, 3.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game in the 2022-2023 season, his first full season as a starter at UH, boasting one of the Big West Conference’s most polished midrange games. In October, he was selected to the six-member preseason All-Big West team, a token of respect among the league’s coaches that hasn’t been bestowed to a UH player since Aaron Valdes prior to the 2015-2016 season.
Although McClanahan and Coleman started their college careers elsewhere, both entered together and are now fourth-year seniors at Hawaii.
“I’m very confident and I know he is as well,” Coleman said of McClanahan. “We came in here together and being able to finish it together, I think that’s special. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
“That’s what I’ve always wanted. Not that COVID was a good thing, but it did give guys like me that always wanted a four-year tenure at a school to grow and be like a freshman and now I’m a senior,” McClanahan added. “I think I did exactly what I wanted to do and now I’m a senior. Time flew by fast but I’m excited to be here and I think everything happened for a reason.
“I feel like that’s how it goes for a lot of college athletes. Usually freshman year is kind of up and down, sophomore year you get a little bit better, junior year you kind of break out a little bit and this year’s like the grand finale. I think that was kind of the same thing for me in high school as well. It’s been a roller coaster as far as no fans to fans, to sold out crowds. I don’t know what to expect this year, but I’m sure the fans will come and support us like usual. I think it’s all been worth it. I’m happy about everything that’s happened so far.”
Coleman and McClanahan both started all 33 of the team’s games in the 2022-2023 season, and each took on more responsibility on both sides of the court, particularly on the defensive end, where UH often tends to go man-on-man.
For all of McClanahan and Coleman’s similarities, perhaps the most important in UH’s case is how each chose to stay for one more year, a true rarity in the college landscape. Across the Big West, some of the league’s best guards leveled up via the transfer portal: Former UC Riverside standout Zyon Pullin is now at Florida, two-year starter Latrell Wrightsell Jr. departed Cal State Fullerton in favor of Alabama, and former UC Irvine starter DJ Davis is now at Butler.
“People were in my ear, just NIL stuff, telling me there’s so much money out there. But I’d rather be where I’m comfortable at and I feel like I’m at home, and I didn’t want to leave home to go play anywhere else,” McClanahan says. “I really love Hawaii and the fans and the coaches. (Eran) Ganot has really accepted me and (John) Montgomery since day one, I have the utmost respect for them to stay and battle with them until we win a championship.”
In Eran Ganot’s eight seasons as Hawaii’s head coach, he’s never had a pair of guards start every game for him and return the following year. In Year 9, he finally has that in McClanahan and Coleman, who will be paramount to the team’s success and relied upon heavily.
“Just to win a championship, to be the best team that we can be. That’s my goal every day: To make sure that we’re getting the best out of ourselves and we have to perform at a high level,” McClanahan said. “That just has to be the standard. I think in order to do that, it’s gonna be hard but it’ll lead us to being champions. That’s what the people care about. We don’t care about having a good season or individual accolades, we need championships and banners. I think Hawaii deserves it.”
Added Coleman: “We only have one goal this year and that’s the NCAA Tournament and getting as far as possible. We’re not going to rest until we can make that happen. We’re looking forward to it. Everyone’s excited, everybody is motivated.”