Sunday was pretty cool for me because one of my favorite Huskies ever got his number retired, was at Gampel Pavilion and willing to take a picture with me. No, not Ray Allen. Hasheem Thabeet. All-American and Big East Player of the Year. I loved that 2009 team that fell in the Final Four. What people often forget is that preceding that 2009 squad was a very strong 2008 team with many of the same cast of characters, just a year greener.
That team entered the 2008 tournament at 24-9 and a fourth seed in the West region. Buoyed by Thabeet, they had the nation’s best block percentage and second-best two-point field goal percentage. The selection committee gave them the San Diego Toreros, only 22-14 and 120th in KenPom, but most importantly, fresh off a West Coast Conference tournament championship.
The Toreros’ second leading scorer that season was a junior, 6’8 big man named Gyno Pomare. Outside of a quick blurb in Adrian Wojnarowski’s book, The Miracle of St. Anthony, I had never heard of him. With the aforementioned Thabeet and beefy Jeff Adrien in the post for UConn, I felt secure. UCLA or Western Kentucky beware.
Then Pomare went to work. Adrien (18 points, 12 rebounds) and Thabeet (14 points, four blocks) still got theirs, but Pomare was killing. His final statline was 22 points (the game’s leading scorer) with 10 field goals on 12 shots and three steals. Brandon Johnson hit a 3-pointer at 14:47 in the first half to give USD a 10-7 lead. He put up 14 in the first half, including a two-point jumper with three seconds left in the first half. You know what they say about underdogs. Don’t let them hang around.
It was too late. USD was up five at half and earned a confidence they wouldn’t relent all game. Pomare scored a quick four at the beginning of the second half as the Toreros extended their lead to 11. He appeared intermittently after that, but the damage was done. The Huskies would lose by one in overtime, and a talented team had their season ended far too early.
That loss and the experience it generated fueled UConn to a dominant 2009 where the Huskies made the Final Four, finished second in KenPom (tied with the 2004 national championship for best in his archives, and with a better adjusted efficiency margin to boot). Thabeet and AJ Price were All-Americans. Both, along with Adrien, would go on to play in the NBA and Thabeet was the second overall pick of the 2009 Draft. Even Jerome Dyson has gone on to have a glamorous and lucrative overseas career while Gavin Edwards has a legendary standing in Japan.
But what happened to Pomare, the man who prevented a team of high caliber players from making a mark in that 2008 tournament? Well, for starters, he didn’t improve all that much.
He was a junior in the 2008 season, averaging 14.1 points and seven rebounds per game. The year before he had put up 14.9 and 8.3. The year after; 14.0 and 6.1. Consistency I suppose.
In 2009 UConn got glory. USD got mediocrity. 16-16 with no postseason to speak of. In fact, the haven’t been back to the NCAA tournament since.
The 32-year-old Pomare is still active with the Passlab Yamagata Wyverns of the Japanese League.
Former Husky Gavin Edwards has been in Japan since 2013. Pomare can do him two better, playing in Japan every season since 2011. Even his first pro landing spot in 2009-2010 was in Japan, with the Sendai 89ers. He went to Argentina for a quick spell but has been in the Far East for quite some time now.
“I’ve actually played against Hasheem Thabeet and Gavin Edwards in Japan. No college memories were exchanged,” Pomare said over email.
There he has been a multi-time All Star ( 2013-2014 season for Aomori Watts and 2014-2015 season for Kanagawa Samuariz) and annual double-double machine. Outside of Japan he represented Panama in some FIBA Americas competition where his performance was mediocre.
Personally, Pomare may demure about it being a career highlight, but March Madness draws the eyeballs of the nation, and his national relevance was probably never higher. That day netted him quite a bit of contempt from the Husky faithful, and for many people like myself, plenty of frustrating flashbacks.
“Honestly that UConn game was my highlight of any game I’ve played in my 32 years of basketball. I think about it even after all this time. It was all surreal, all the media surrounding the tournament, the police escorts, and the hype of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the game was the icing on the cake. It wasn’t just winning but how we won. The overtime game, Brandon Johnson were fouled out, and the last section shot by De’Jon Jackson. It was amazing. We made history being the first Division 1 college team in San Diego to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Making history is something that can never be taken away and that’s what makes it much more special. “
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.