For two seasons the University of Hawaii Rainbows Men’s Basketball team was No Ka Oi in the Hawaiian Islands. The 1970-1971 and 1971-1972 basketball seasons were magical. After two consecutive losing seasons the Fab-5 (Fabulous 5) came out of nowhere to dominate the courts and provide an instant craze throughout the island chain. The Fab-5 put Hawaii on the map as far as NCAA basketball, creating national attention.
The Fab-5 consisted of starters Al Davis, Jerome Freeman, Dwight Holiday, Bob Nash and John Penebacker. They took in Hawaii’s culture, considering themselves to be ‘ohana; family. Under the leadership of head coach Red Rocha the Fab-5 Rainbows recorded a 23-5 record in the 1970-71 season, and then a 24-3 record in 1971-72.
The consistent play, fast-breaks, and high percentage shots of the Fab-5 put fear into their opponents souls when they stepped on to the basketball court. The 70’s style swag fashioned by Aloha print uniforms and “almost-arrogant” confidence during warm-ups gave the Fab-5 a clear advantage even before games started.
As great as they were, like the old cliche goes… “there’s always someone better”, the Fab-5 wasn’t able to take Hawaii very far in the post season. Hawaii made the 1971 NIT Quarterfinals beating Oklahoma 88-87, but lost to St. Bonaventure 64–73 to end their season. In 1972 Hawaii lost to Weber State 64-91 in their first ever showing at the NCAA’s “Big Dance” tournament. That was the last of the great Fab-5 run.
Head Coach Red Rocha
Ephraim J. “Red” Rocha coached the University of Hawai’i Men’s Basketball team from 1963–1973. He was a 6’9″ center who played in the BAA and NBA in the 1940s and 1950s. He is the first player from Hawaii to play in the NBA. Red Rocha played his college ball at Oregon State. He was born & raised in Hilo, Hawaii, played high school basketball for the Hilo High Vikings.