Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ah Chew Goo

Basketball was once his job, always his hobby and forever his passion.

To his final days last week, Ah Chew Goo tuned in. The former University of Hawaii men's hoops coach in the 1950s watched UH broadcasts religiously, offering up observations and critiques with a sharp mind that had not dulled with age.

On Friday afternoon, Goo died at the age of 96 soon after experiencing heart problems, his son Vince said.

"Actually, he was pretty healthy. Three months and one day shy of being 97," said Vince Goo, the former UH women's coach. "They got him to a hospital. They had him on a ventilator, but he was alive, just unconscious. So the family got to visit and it was really, really good."

While Ah Chew Goo's tenure as UH coach was relatively brief (1954-57), his hoops legacy has staying power in the islands, as seen in his induction in the first Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame class (1978) and the postseason awards bearing his name in both UH men's and women's hoops.

On the men's side, the Ah Chew Goo Most Inspirational Player award was handed out from the 1968-69 season through 2012-13. For the Rainbow Wahine, the annual Ah Chew Goo award is the program's most prestigious individual honor — bestowed on a player who attains "basketball excellence through dedication, determination and perseverance."

That description summed up Goo's youth. The Hilo High product stood just 5 feet 4 1/2 inches, but he was driven from his early years to build up his skill level. In empty gyms, he'd fire basketballs at marked spots on the wall for hours with either hand to improve his accuracy. It was said he would toss behind-the-back passes at round telephone poles and never have to go running down the street after the ball.

The self-taught talent helped Hilo to three straight territorial championships (the pre-statehood title equivalent) in the 1930s.

While he never played collegiately or professionally, Goo was renowned for wizardry with the basketball.

"He was a light guy, very quick. He was like a magician," said Jimmy Yagi, a former Goo player who would go on to become UH Hilo coach. "During clinics like that, he'd show some stuff that was incredible."

Build his skill he did, to the point of national renown.

He eventually became known as the "Mandarin Magician" for his repertoire of dribbling moves and nifty passes. He famously got into a game with the Harlem Globetrotters in his mid-30s and asked to try out a couple of tricks, and was rebuffed. The Globetrotters were using those tricks the next year, though.

Press Maravich, the father of NBA legend Pete Maravich, was said to have been taken with Goo's moves while stationed with the military in Hawaii and taught some to his son.

Goo would become the 11th coach in UH program history, going 31-46 over three years against a mix of club and collegiate competition. Al Saake, who preceded Goo as coach, took over again for six more years before giving way to another Hilo High product, Red Rocha.

By age 40, Goo had "retired" from hoops because of a stomach ailment, although he stayed involved with clinics while working as a representative with the L.G. Balfour company. He also worked as a boxing official knockdown timer.

"I kept in contact with him all these years through basketball," Yagi said. "He's the one who kept me in the game … He's always been a really nice mentor for me. Man, that's a big loss to have him go."

Even in his later years, Goo was the life of any party.

"He was really a funny guy. He was a rascal," Yagi said. "Just keeping everybody kind of light. He's always been fun."

Goo's legacy includes his three sons' contributions to UH basketball.

Vince Goo was inspired by his father to coach. He'd go on to win 334 games, the most in Wahine hoops history. The whole way, he'd call Ah Chew after games for critiques.

"I would call him (next) morning when we won. And when we lost I'd wait a couple days," Vince said with a chuckle.

[1/28/15] Bob Hogue on Ah Chew Goo



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