No one thought that this would be the team to go dancing.
Too many things had gone wrong for this University of Hawaii men’s basketball team in the last two years — a revolving door of coaches and players, looming NCAA sanctions and a mire of uncertainty.
The mid-major Big West Conference only sends its champion to the most prestigious tournament in college basketball. And the Rainbow Warriors, in the four years they had been a part of Big West, had never earned that spot.
This year, they did.
And then they won again, upsetting No. 4 seed California for the school’s first-ever NCAA tournament win before losing to Maryland in the second round.
But this is not a story about the big men in the limelight this year, or about NBA draft prospects and future glory on the court.
This is a story about one of Hawaii’s own, who kept his nose to the grindstone and kept going against the odds.
This is a story about Dyrbe Enos.
Enos, who grew up in Aiea, started playing basketball at age six. He was a star player at Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama — one of the best in the state at the time.
But when college came around, Enos’ first thoughts went to finances. He hadn’t received any substantial scholarship offers, and he couldn’t afford a hefty tuition.
“If I stayed home and continued to play the sport I love and go to school, I figured it’d all pay off,” he explains.
So he looked at walk-on opportunities. Unlike other players, walk-ons receive no financial aid, but are expected to put in the same amount of work and commitment as scholarship players, minus the guarantee of playing time or even a roster spot.
It can be, to say the least, discouraging.
Enos ultimately decided to try his luck with University of Hawaii after then-head coach Gib Arnold offered him the chance, passing up a similar invitation from Hawaii Pacific University’s Division II team.
“My brother (Rykin) was a walk-on for the (UH) football team, and he told me you just gotta keep going,” recalls Enos.
“I don’t know how coaches look at you, but you gotta practice every day thinking it’s your last day of practice, like it’s your last time playing basketball. You’ve got to give it your all, keep pushing, keep grinding and have a positive attitude.”
Arnold did utilize Enos as a reserve guard after his redshirt season, putting him on the court for 118 minutes to score 31 points in the 2013-2014 season. It was modest, but it was something.
“It was frustrating,” Enos admits. “Especially growing up, basically playing every game or starting the games … It just taught me that DI is a whole new level. It’s going to be hard.”
Things were going slowly for Enos, but they were going — until scandal erupted, alleging serious NCAA violations against the team and Arnold, who was fired just before the 2014-2015 season and replaced for the year by his assistant Benjy Taylor.
“We were just shocked, stunned,” Enos says of the team’s reaction. “We weren’t really sure how 100 percent it was, or what we were going to do if it actually happened — and then it did. We just took it day by day.”
But Enos saw just 44 minutes of playing time that season and began to wonder if he ought to refocus his time on academics and quit the team.
His mother Terry Takiguchi talked him out of giving up.
“I told him it’s just a growing thing, we just grow with it,” Takiguchi says. “You have the opportunity, so take advantage of it, go ahead with it; you play against the best players in the state during practice. You’re doing what a lot of people would love to do, but don’t or can’t.”
So Enos stayed — just in time for the greatest experience of his career.
When Eran Ganot stepped into the head coach job for the 2015-2016 season, things just clicked — all the way to that historic NCAA run.
Enos is the first to acknowledge that he didn’t get to play much this year — just 28 minutes, with only nine points scored — but he’s still exhilarated to be part of the team.
“Growing up, I never thought I would be in that position, to be on a team that plays in the March Madness tournament,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d be playing Division I basketball, either, but with the right support system and your family and your friends, anything is possible.”
And while he may not get much on-court fame, he’s earned renown in the hearts of his loved ones (his entire extended family flew to Spokane, Washington, to watch the team play Cal) — and the larger community.
Any regular at Stan Sheriff Center could tell you that the crowd lights up when Enos goes in, with raucous applause and calls to “Shoot, shoot!” even when he doesn’t have the ball. Ganot gave Enos a scholarship for his final semester. And on Senior Night, his teammates wore shirts emblazoned with his number — 10 — in his honor.
But even strangers cheer for him.
“When we came back from Spokane, I went to the beach to go surf with my friend, and right when I got out to the lineup, this dude told me, ‘Congratulations! You guys did awesome!’ and I had no idea who he was,” Enos recalls.
“It was new to me because I wasn’t used to any of that, especially since I don’t even play at all,” he jokes.
Enos has an internship with KITV’s sports desk lined up and is mostly focused on getting a job right now, as he graduates with a communications degree in May. But he doesn’t rule basketball out of his future.
“I eventually want to coach at my old high school,” he says. “Whether it be intermediate, JV, varsity — just get back to where I first started.”
His playing career may not have ended with a personal blaze of glory, but no one can deny that Dyrbe Enos has still demonstrated he’s quite the star.
UH faces quite the conundrum for its 2016-2017 season, as it may be facing reduced scholarships and a postseason ban as a result of its NCAA violations — meaning no dancing, no matter how well the team plays. In part because of this, the team is also in danger of losing its entire starting lineup.
Roderick Bobbitt and Quincy Smith (and reserve player Dyrbe Enos) have all graduated off the team. 2016 Big West Player of the Year Stefan Jankovic has decided to forego his eligibility to turn pro, as has Aaron Valdes.
Mike Thomas and Stefan Jovanovic have not announced whether they will go or stay as of press time. If they leave, UH will need to rebuild its squad from its largely untested sophomore and freshman reserves.
UH has appealed the NCAA’s decision, but does not yet know its fate.
Enos has a pragmatic take on the situation.
“I think it’s gonna be a struggle,” he admits. “Regardless (of what happens), you’re basically going to have a new team.
“I think this might be a rebuilding year.”
Dyrbe Enos had the unique opportunity to work with three very different coaches. We asked his take on their contrasting styles.
The man who recruited him was big on the team following plays, according to Enos, but he still let players do their thing come game time.
“He just let us play,” Enos says with a laugh. “That’s what was good about him: He let us free ourselves to just play our game.”
Enos’ last coach is big on fundamentals and never misses a chance to drill into the team the importance of the basics.