Maui Invitational Celebrates Silver Anniversary
Nov. 20, 2008
NEW YORK (AP) -This is time of year the same lines come from people ranging from basketball fanatics to sun worshippers:
"Can I carry your computer bag?"
"I can keep stats for you."
"Please, please, please."
For the 16th time in my 21 years as the national college basketball writer for The Associated Press, I have been assigned to cover the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
The 25th edition of the tournament that has become an early season standard gets under way on Monday with its usual standout field - No. 1 North Carolina, No. 7 Texas and No. 9 Notre Dame - and its always perfect weather.
It's hard to mess things up when some of the best teams in the country get together for three days in a gym just 500 yards from the Pacific Ocean. I've had a midcourt seat for 180 games in the Lahaina Civic Center, making it second only to Madison Square Garden as far as venues where I have covered college basketball.
That's 15 round trips from New York to Maui - I can't figure what there have been more of, frequent flyer miles or little bags of airline pretzels - and a lot of special moments on and off the court.
Every year, the participating coaches hold a news conference the morning before the tournament starts. For television purposes, the dais of coaches has a beach in the background, surfboards leaning nearby and plenty of curious visitors in assorted beachwear just stopping by.
In 1990, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim was one of those coaches waiting for questions and was asked if he was enjoying the difference in the weather from upstate New York even though the nationally ranked Orange faced stiff competition from a field that included two other Top 25 teams.
"I would rather be in the snow in Syracuse playing three schools you never heard of," he said without breaking a smile. "I'm serious."
The teams have a second court available for practice time at Lahainaluna High School, which is nestled on a small campus on the side of a hill with yet another spectacular view of the area.
In 1988, I went up to the school to talk with some coaches and Oklahoma was just wrapping up its practice. Coach Billy Tubbs kept telling the players still shooting around after practice was over to not dunk because he said the rims just didn't look that stable.
As we were talking in the corner, Memphis began its practice and one of the Tigers went up, dunked hard and brought down the rim, turning practice into a halfcourt affair.
"Man, and I still can't get anybody to agree with me that I'm the smartest coach in the country," Tubbs said in his best Jack Nicholson voice.
The Lahaina Civic Center has undergone a transformation because of the Maui Invitational. In the early years, the two-story building was a local gym that had some of college basketball's best players take the place over for three days.
But renovations for the sake of telecasts and the air-conditioned comfort of U.S. Olympians on the way to compete in the Sydney Games have made it a quality building that seats 2,500, has an average temperature of 72 degrees and is still the home of the county's Department of Motor Vehicles.
One year, a local man clutching some paperwork turned the corner at the Civic Center and saw a long line of fans waiting for the doors to open for the day's first game.
"These people can't be registering cars, can they?" he asked with a look of horror before being sent to the lone, empty window taking care of such matters.
One of the best things to do with free time on Maui is to take a ride on Route 30 west, past Kapalua and onto the mountainous road that heads toward Keawalua. Along the way the scenery is beyond description and there are a couple of points where you can pull over and watch real surfers go out over and over on waves just as big as you would imagine.
In a break between doubleheaders one day, I headed out Route 30 and stopped at one of the surfing gathering spots.
As I stood well back from the beach watching people do something I would never even think of, a surfer asked me what was with the outfit, gesturing toward my rolled-up long sleeves and long pants.
"I bet you'd be asked the same thing at the Final Four," I replied.
Over the years, no fans have followed their team to the Maui Invitational like Kentucky fans. Suddenly, it seems every white rental car on the island has a blue "K" flag flapping out the back window and choreographed cheers break out at any time.
The local Denny's had lava plant rocks - rocks from nearby volcanos with flowers actually growing out of them - on each table.
An older couple wearing their Kentucky warm-weather clothing was looking at one of the rocks when the waitress told them they were for sale in a nearby store if they were interested.
After a long look, the man asked the question only a 'Cats fan could: "Does it come in blue?"
There have been so many great games over the years at the Maui Invitational - Chaminade's upset of then No. 1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson in 1983 was not part of the tournament - and no team has played as well on the island as Duke.
The Blue Devils have made four trips to Maui and returned with the Wayne Duke championship trophy every time, an impressive 12-0 record in a building which has become known as "Cameron Way West."
It will be tough for any tournament to match the last two days of the 2005 Maui Invitational.
In the semifinals, No. 8 Gonzaga beat No. 12 Michigan State 109-106 in triple overtime and No. 3 Connecticut beat No. 9 Arizona 79-70. The next day, Michigan State beat Arizona 74-71 in overtime for third place and Connecticut, on a turnaround jumper by Denham Brown at the buzzer, beat Gonzaga 65-63.
"This must be a special building, to get two days like that," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "Any chance of getting some NCAA tournament games here?"