Thursday, February 26, 2015

Larry Little

Larry Little first set foot in Hawaii as coach of the Centenary Gentlemen, but not even a subsequent courtside seat to the most turbulent period in University of Hawaii athletics as the Rainbow Warriors’ basketball coach ever changed the gentleman part. 

Little saw the ’Bows through NCAA sanctions, chaos in the athletic department and over-heated expectations — none of it his doing — in the late 1970s, somehow remaining a class act throughout his nine-year tenure in Manoa.

The man who gave UH stability in troubled times and guided it into the Western Athletic Conference era died Wednesday at age 75 in Las Vegas.

“It is a shock,” said Jack Miller who played four seasons (1980-84) for Little and had planned to visit him next month.

Little, who had helped transport his ailing friend and former assistant Riley Wallace in Las Vegas as recently as Sunday, suffered a massive stroke Monday, a family member said.

“He and Riley were closer than brothers and (Riley) is just broken up over it,” said Bruce O’Neil, another former UH coach who has been in regular contact with the pair.

Little was 100-33 in five seasons as head coach and athletic director at tiny Centenary when he accepted the UH job in 1976 in the ominous shadow of the NCAA investigation. The looming sanctions — UH was eventually slapped with two years of probation for 68 violations — the departure of several key players and lack of a permanent athletic director in place had prompted at least two candidates, including assistants at UCLA and Notre Dame, to turn down the job.

But Little, who had come to the then-Honolulu International Center, as Blaisdell Center was known at the time, to play the Fabulous Five was not dissuaded.

“He loved Hawaii,” said O’Neil, an assistant athletic director involved in the search. “He wanted the job.”

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