THE LIFE OF
In just about every city he visits with the University of
Hawai'i men's basketball team, he receives pats on the
back, handshakes, even gifts.
San Jose State gave him golf equipment. Utah State gave
him a $1,000 vacation certificate. Nevada gave him a
It is as much an appreciation tour as it is a farewell.
"Good people are hard to find these days," Utah State head
coach Stew Morrill said. "And Riley Wallace is good
people. As a coach, his record speaks for itself. As a
person, I can't say enough about the guy."
Wallace, 65, will no longer be the head coach of the
Rainbow Warriors after this season. It is a concept he —
and many basketball fans in Hawai'i — may never get used
Wallace has been in charge of the 'Bows since 1987. After
20 years of coughing — a nervous reaction that kicks in
every basketball season — Wallace's last home game as head
coach will be tomorrow, when Hawai'i hosts Boise State.
The 'Bows will travel to the Western Athletic Conference
Tournament in New Mexico next week, and they still have a
shot at a postseason tournament after that. But once the
season ends, Wallace's resignation will go into effect,
ending the longest and most successful run in Hawai'i
"All this attention is nice," Wallace said. "But it's
never been about me. I've always wanted to draw the
attention to my players and this program. And if me
leaving brings more attention to the players and the
program, then I don't mind."
Wallace's 333 victories are the most by a Hawai'i men's
basketball coach, and the second-most in the history of
the WAC. Sixteen of his 20 seasons with the 'Bows have
ended with winning records, including this season.
He started with a coat-throwing, foot-stomping style that
caught the attention of fans — and referees. He will end
it with a mellower style, but still fueled by a
competitive fire that is respected by fans — and
But it takes a better understanding of the journey to
fully appreciate the destination that Wallace charted for
the once-lowly UH basketball program.
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1955 ...
As a middle-school student in Jerseyville, Ill., Wallace's
goal was to drop out.
"A lot of kids from the area back then quit school once
they reached 16 to work on the farm," he said. "I didn't
want to work on a farm, I just didn't like school."
But his mother, Mary Barbara, was a schoolteacher, so
Wallace had to choose another goal.
"I fell in love with basketball; basketball was my out,"
he said. "I knew if I wanted to keep playing, I had to
During his teen years, Wallace spent countless hours
shooting hoops on a dirt court outside the family home.
"There used to be a strawberry patch there, but no more
strawberries after we put up the goal," he said. "I wore
it out shooting every day."
By his senior season in 1959, Wallace was a 6-foot-5
all-star forward. He thinks he is the first player in
Jerseyville High history to dunk in a game.
"We're a basketball family," said Myrna Landon, his older
sister. "And Riley loved it more than all of us."
He was recruited by 36 college programs, including
Houston, Kansas State, Southern Illinois and Drake.
He chose Centenary.
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1963 ...
Wallace was a four-year starting forward at Centenary, in
Shreveport, La. His playing style would reflect his
coaching philosophy — he was a no-nonsense hustler who
took more pride in defense than offense.
"If you came over my back once, I'd tell you not to do it
again," Wallace said. "If you did it again, you'd have a
bloody nose or black eye. I had some sharp elbows and I
knew how to use 'em."
More important than his basketball career at Centenary was
his relationship with his future wife, Joan. She started
as his study partner; they got married after his senior
season in 1963.
"We were in the same biology class, and he wasn't doing
very well so he asked me for help," Joan said. "He was the
same guy he is today, except he was skinny back then."
They have two children of their own, Rob and Kim, and
hundreds more who went by the collective name Rainbow
"Every year, we bring the (players) over for Thanksgiving
and Christmas," Joan said. "It wasn't all about
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1987 ...
After various coaching stints — including six seasons as
an assistant at Hawai'i under Larry Little — Wallace was
offered the job of head coach of the 'Bows.
Hawai'i had a record of 11-45 in the previous two seasons
under Frank Arnold, and Wallace was offered an annual
salary of $55,000 to rebuild the program.
"It wasn't your ideal situation, and it wasn't a lot of
money for a Division I basketball coach, but it was a lot
of money to me," Wallace said. "And I wanted to be a
Division I head coach."
The 'Bows finished with a record of 4-25 during Wallace's
first season, but there was undoubtedly a new attitude
surrounding Hawai'i basketball.
"It was intense the first day Coach Wallace walked in the
gym," said David Hallums, a former Pearl City star athlete
who played on Wallace's first two Hawai'i teams. "There
were players who quit after the first day and got on a
flight two days later to go home."
During that first season, the average home attendance at
the Blaisdell Center Arena was 1,683.
"There were more people there when I played in the (high
school) state tournament," Hallums said. "To get
motivated, I kept thinking in my head, 'OK, this is like
playing Farrington in the first round.' "
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1988 ...
It took one year for Wallace to turn the 'Bows into a
By season two, they had a record of 17-13 and got invited
to the National Invitation Tournament.
"Back then, the (UH) football team was kicking butt, and
they would always tease us that first year (in 1987),"
Hallums said. "But we didn't feel embarrassed around them
anymore. Coach Wallace made that much of a difference that
And it wasn't just measured in wins and losses.
After practices, Wallace would wait for some of the
players to shower and change. Then they'd pile in his car
and drive to his Hawai'i Kai home. There, Joan Wallace
would serve as volunteer tutor for the players.
"They didn't have the (academic assistance) program they
have in place now," Joan said. "And I was a coach's wife,
so I did what I had to do to help the team."
Troy Bowe, who was recruited to Hawai'i out of New York,
said: "Coach Wallace and Mrs. Wallace were like our
parents over there. If it wasn't for them, I don't know
where I'd be."
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1989 ...
At the end of season three, the 'Bows set a school record
with 25 wins, and capacity crowds were showing up at the
"One thing Coach Wallace did was prepare us for every team
we played," Bowe said. "As far as getting a team ready to
play, and knowing what the opponent was going to do, he
was the best in the business."
Bowe now coaches youth basketball in New York. Phil Lott,
another star player from Wallace's early years, is also a
youth coach in Connecticut. They both said they run the
same plays Wallace taught them at Hawai'i.
"I try to emulate everything I learned from Coach Wallace,
on and off the court," Lott said.
Although Bowe lives in New York, he has two children in
Hawai'i from a past relationship.
A few years ago, Wallace got Bowe's son, Troy Jr., into a
summer basketball camp. Around the same time, Joan Wallace
made a video of Bowe's games at UH and sent it to Troy Jr.
"That's unbelievable that they would even think about my
kids like that," Bowe said. "There's no way I can put into
words what Coach Wallace did for me. I am forever
LIFE OF RILEY IN 1998 ...
Whoever said Hawai'i can never be a basketball state was
not around in 1997 and '98.
Led by the "Dynamic Duo" of Anthony Carter and former
Kalaheo star Alika Smith, the 'Bows went 42-17 during
those two seasons.
They played before 15 sellout crowds in the 10,000-seat
Stan Sheriff Center in those two seasons. There have been
two sellout crowds in the nine seasons since then.
"I felt like a rock star," said Smith, now a UH assistant
coach. "We would go out and people, complete strangers,
would come up and want to talk to us."
Carter, who would go on to play in the NBA, remains one of
Hawai'i's favorite athletes.
"Coach Wallace means everything to me," Carter said. "He
gave me a chance when I didn't think I had a chance."
The proof is in the gratitude.
After signing a $12 million contract with the Miami Heat
in 2002, Carter donated $100,000 to the UH basketball
scholarship fund. More recently, Carter added the UH
basketball program to his will.
"There's no amount of money that can make up for what
Coach Wallace and that program did to get me where I am
today," Carter said. "There was nothing like my time in
Hawai'i. I will never forget it."
LIFE OF RILEY IN 2002 ...
An influx of international recruits helps transform the
'Bows into an NCAA Tournament team. They go to the "Big
Dance" in 2001 and '02.
But players like Predrag Savovic and Nerijus Puida were
not just hired guns.
Puida, who was from Lithuania, now calls Hawai'i home. He
and his wife, Dainora, have real parents in Lithuania and
hanai parents in Hawai'i Kai.
"Me and Dainora go over to Coach's house at least once a
month, and it's like our second home," Puida said. "We
eat, watch movies. Sometimes we stay there to 11 or 12
o'clock at night. He will always be my coach, but he is
also a father-figure and a friend."
Savovic would go on to play in the NBA and now in Europe.
He received numerous accolades and was on two championship
teams with the 'Bows. But he said an unexpected visit by
Wallace left the most lasting impression.
After Savovic's senior season at UH, he was a long-shot
candidate for the NBA draft. Wallace went straight from a
basketball clinic in Guam to be with Savovic on draft
"He showed up in New York to give me support," Savovic
said. "I will always remember that gesture, not only that
he was there, but that he traveled 15,000 miles from
Savovic was not drafted.