The second domino of the University of Hawaii men’s basketball team’s pseudo off-season free agency fell Thursday morning, as junior guard Aaron Valdes elected to forgo his senior season and pursue a career in professional basketball.
Valdes was a second-team All-Big West selection in 2015-2016, averaging 14.1 points-per-game, ranking second on the team behind Big West player of the year Stefan Jankovic.
The Whittier, Calif. native also trailed only Jankovic in the rebound department, clocking 5.5 boards-per-game.
“It feels good, kind of sad knowing that I won’t be able to come back to Hawaii, but at the same time I’m excited for this part of my life,” Valdes said. “Coming in, we weren’t the best team in our conference in the Big West, but our goal was to, by the end of my college career, to be the best team and we did that. To go to the tournament and win a game in the tournament for the first time in school history just adds to it and makes it that much better for us.”
With Valdes joining Jankovic to leave school early and turn professional, Hawaii will be down over 30 points and 12 rebounds-per-game next season.
The damage can still get worse for the ‘Bows. With junior starting forward Mike Thomas’ future still undecided on his senior season plans, as well as key reserve forward Stefan Jovanovic waiting to make his own decision, 35 minutes-a-contest in Hawaii’s front court is in danger of leaving.
Due to NCAA sanctions placed on the Rainbow Warriors, all juniors are eligible to transfer free of consequence to another program for their senior year in 2016-2017.
Valdes’ departure follows an improbable journey that began with him coming to Manoa as a walk-on under then-head coach Gib Arnold.
After red-shirting in 2012-2013, Valdes became a key contributor through his next two seasons, totaling 65 career starts.
AARON VALDES LETTER TO HAWAII:
After taking the last few weeks to weigh my options for the future, I have finally made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. Please know this was not an easy decision and it required much prayer and consideration. That being said, I have decided to forego my final year of eligibility at the University of Hawaii and explore my professional options as a basketball player.
These past 4 years in Hawaii have been some of the best and most memorable and I will never forget the moment’s we’ve shared together. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent such a great state and such great people. Please know that wherever my future leads, I will always carry Hawaii with me.
While so many people have helped and supported me along the way, I never would have made this far without a few special people who truly made a difference in my journey. I would like to personally thank those who went above and beyond to make it all possible: Amanda Patterson who worked tirelessly to help me navigate through the NCAA system from day 1, Kari Ambrozich and Jim Gillespie who encouraged me & challenged me academically to become a better student,
Coach Benjy Taylor who believed in me and challenged me to become a better player, Coach Brad Autry who took extra time to work with me on developing my individual game and help see things differently, Jay Goo; the best trainer ever who worked magic on a daily basis, Auntie Bobbie & Auntie Wendy for just being a mom away from mom, and my current coaching staff for pushing not only me, but the entire team to not only be better basketball players on the court but better men off the court.
Thank you Dayton Moriaga, Rob DeMello, Brian McInnis, Gary Dickman and “the guys in the corner” for allowing me to grow as a student-athlete and learn to express my thoughts, feelings and opinions in some of the toughest and happiest moments and much appreciation to Andrew Lee and Brandon Flores for capturing a lifetime of memories for us all.
To the fans, all I can say is thank you! Thank you! Thank you for all the love and support you showed me over the past four years. You have no idea how much it truly means to a player. You never counted us out, even in the toughest of times, and I hope we made you proud.
What can I say about my brothers on the floor? Thank you for hanging tough in the good times and bad as we fought through hell and back these last few years. When I look back, it was all worth the fight for our names to go down in history together.
A special thank you to my family who have gone through the collegiate journey with me and helped me make some really difficult decisions. None of this would have been possible without their love and support.
Finally, thank you so much for allowing me to become part of the great Ohana that is HAWAII.