It Took Ralph Sampson to Put Chaminade on Basketball Map : Honolulu School Has Made a Habit of Scoring Upsets

Times Staff Writer

A French priest named William Joseph Chaminade founded the Society of Mary in 1817. Almost a century and a half later, in 1955, the Society of Mary named a Honolulu university in his honor.

But it took Ralph Sampson to make Chaminade famous.

That was in the winter of 1982-83, when unheralded and unheard of Chaminade beat Sampson and the rest of the University of Virginia basketball team, 77-72.

Chaminade? The country reacted as if Virginia had been defeated by a mirage, maybe one of those mail-order diploma factories. It had to be a fluke.


Well, perhaps not. In 1983-84, Chaminade beat Louisville. This season, it defeated Louisville and SMU in the space of three days. That prompted Cindy Luis, a Honolulu reporter, to write: “Yes, Virginia . . . there is a Chaminade.”

That same Chaminade team is now on a swing through Southern California, and that same Chaminade team has suffered losses to Biola, 73-61, and Cal State Los Angeles, 66-63. Its last regular-season mainland appearance will be at Point Loma Nazarene tonight.

How can the same team that beat Louisville and SMU lose to Biola and Cal State Los Angeles?

“We are what we are,” said Merv Lopes, the junior high school counselor who moonlights as Chaminade’s head basketball coach. “We’re a little bit like a 25-handicapper playing golf. Some days we’re unbelievable, like we come up with a couple of birdies and shoot par. On other days, we’re back to being a 25-handicapper.”

On its own level, Chaminade is far from a 25-handicapper. It is a member of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics, and ranks seventh nationally at that level of competition. It has a record of 15-7, three of the losses coming since it beat SMU on Christmas Day.

The NAIA is a group of smaller colleges and universities, and Chaminade is among the smallest of the small.

“We’ve got one building--and no gym,” Lopes said. “We converted a women’s rest room into a locker room. We visit places with campuses as big as downtown Honolulu.”

Chaminade’s campus, which it shares with Honolulu’s St. Louis High School, is nestled in the shadow of the University of Hawaii about five minutes from Waikiki. The enrollment is between 900 and 1,000.

The Silverswords--as they are known--play their games at the high school gym, except when a giant has come to town to be slain. Then, they go across town to Blaisdell Arena.

“Everyone wants to come to Hawaii,” Lopes said. “We’ve got guys knocking on our door trying to schedule games.”

Denny Crum took Louisville to Hawaii last season and absorbed an 83-72 loss. Crum and Louisville were back again this year, and the result was another loss, 67-65.

“We had three starters out with injuries this year,” Crum said, “and that probably had something to do with it. But they beat us last year when we were healthy.”

How? Why?

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Crum said. “They’ve got a good team to begin with, then they get all fired up and play over their heads. I think jet lag and the five-hour time change bother us, too. We played two nights earlier against Hawaii-Hilo and committed 38 turnovers. That’s an indication something isn’t right.”

Officiating, of course, might be a factor. SMU Coach Dave Bliss was rather critical of officiating in the aftermath of the Mustangs’ 71-70 loss.

Bliss could not be reached for comment, but Crum said: “You don’t get many breaks over there. A lot of times, it’s the things that aren’t called that affect the game.”

Lopes conceded that the improbable finish that beat SMU could only have happened in Hawaii. No time was showing on the clock, but the buzzer had not sounded. The Silverswords inbounded the ball to Keith Whitney, who caught the ball and shot it in the same motion. It went in.

“If we were on the road,” Lopes said, “the game would have been over.”

Lopes is right about folks knocking at the door, however. Crum, for one, did not seem disinclined to someday return, even after two losses.

“When you play in Alaska or Hawaii,” he said, “it doesn’t count against the 28-game limit. Those games are beneficial, especially for a younger team. And a trip to Hawaii is a good recruiting tool. We took 177 fans this last trip. It was a nice trip.”

In any case, teams such as Louisville don’t expect to lose to Chaminade.

Tony Randolph, Chaminade’s senior center from Staunton, Va., played high school ball against Sampson. He chatted with Sampson before the 1982-83 game--but not in the wild and surprising aftermath.

“We never had a chance,” Randolph said. “What we did was against all odds. Virginia had come to Honolulu to have a luau.”

Added Lopes: “Teams come in here and don’t play up to their potential, and our players over-achieve.”

Chaminade’s roster is not exactly populated with blue-chip recruits.

“Usually,” Lopes said, “we get guys who have nowhere else to go. We don’t recruit against Nevada Las Vegas or even the University of Hawaii. We give a kid an opportunity to go to a different place and have a different experience and get an education.”

Lopes does not even have a recruiting budget. He doesn’t have any budget at all.

Obviously, it is helpful when a player lands in his lap. Randolph, for example, had gone to Hawaii to visit a brother in the military, and Lopes found him shooting baskets in a gym. Mark Rodrigues, the point guard who beat Louisville at the buzzer, went to St. Louis High.

“I go to the park and watch guys shoot around,” Lopes said. “The first time we beat Virginia, we did it with a lead guard named Mark Wells I found shooting baskets at Venice Beach. He said he had a friend named Michael Parker, so I watched him play. ‘Michael,’ I told him, ‘why don’t you come with Mark to Chaminade?’ ”

Wells and Parker are gone now, but they were part of that win over Virginia. They were part of the team that set the tempo for what Chaminade has done since.

Upsetting the big guys does have its drawbacks, however.

“It could be a negative,” Rodrigues said, “because it leads to overconfidence. We can’t get to thinking we’re too good for the NAIA. We’ve been trying to fight it the last couple of games.”

And Lopes is not the sort to take losing lightly.

“Coach is similar to Bobby Knight,” Randolph said. “He’s demanding and he expects you to put out 100%. He stresses defense as well as offense, and he gives everyone a role to play and expects them to play it.”

“He’s always hard on us,” Rodrigues said, “but he’s even tougher when we lose.”

With consecutive losses to Biola and Cal State Los Angeles, Lopes is feeling downright surly. He suspects the players have forgotten how they had to play to beat Louisville and SMU.

“Ego overcomes the roles they’re supposed to play,” Lopes said. “This has to be a role-playing team, and we don’t have role-playing players. That’s why we’re struggling. In order to be a consistent winner, we’ve got to get back to playing the way we’re supposed to play.”

Lopes, of course, would like to win an NAIA championship, but he is aware of the comparative prestige of beating Virginia or beating Fort Hayes State. The Silverswords finished fourth in the 1982-83 NAIA tournament.

“We could win the NAIA three years in a row and you wouldn’t be here,” he told a reporter. “No one would ever read it in the paper. If Ralph Sampson ever comes to Hawaii, we’re going to give him a day. He put us on the map.”