Yay basketball! After an eight hour flight from Dallas to Maui in which I got to watch two of the greatest films ever made (“Dinner with the Schmucks”…not Steve Carrell’s best work but passable and “Tooth Fairy” which made me embarassed for both Ashley Judd and the Rock), we finally landed in Maui on Saturday afternoon for the Maui Invitational. Upon arrival, the first group we ran into was the UK basketball team, all looking a bit dreary eyed after their long flight from Portland. We all however were impressed with the island, which is amazingly gorgeous and looks like something from a postcard. We are staying at the team hotel and thus have been greeted with a number of rare sights, such as Lee Todd walking in the lobby in white linen pants and Orlando Antigua shopping for gift trinkets in the lobby gift shop. In short, this is paradise, albeit one that requires people to wear bizarre shirts and fake flowers around their neck. Not a ton has happened so far and the Cats kick off their actual basketball action tomorrow at 12:30 pm local time (5:30 pm for you Eastern Standard Time folks working for a living). But until then, some notes from the beach (where I am unbelievably sunburned):
— It takes a bit to get used to Hawaii time as we are five hours behind the time that God meant for us to be on, Eastern time. And because of that, the press conference for the coaches was scheduled extra early, beginning at 8 am. It actually was an extra absurd scene as the coaches played the time honored tradition of looking awkward in a team-colored Hawaiian shirt. Each had on a lei and set at a podium, while Dave Odom (who for some strange reason is the “Tournament Chairman”) moderated a series of statements. The media feigned interest in the Wichita State coach, followed by Jim Calhoun, who said that John Calipari was coaching a team with “more talent than the Celtics”. Jeff Capel then attempted to have everyone forget that the NCAA has a branch office now in Norman and John Calipari said something about how UK fans are crazy. Tom Izzo tried to hide the fact that his team is the clear favorite, the Chaminade coach (shaped like a keg of Natty Light) had a huge “I am just happy to be here look”), Tony Bennett disappointed everyone with the realization that he is neither (a) the singer or (b) his father and Lorenzo Romar sat with a “yeah I am going to act like I am not pissed about this whole Kanter/Jones thing, but if Cal looks at me the wrong way, its on” glare on his face. All in all, a fun start to the morning.
— The coaches were then shipped off to a free throw shooting contest which really should be a tradition incorporated in other sports. Who wouldnt pay to see all the SEC coaches return a punt at SEC Media Days (I am taking Joker, followed by Chizek….Vandy’s coach dead last)?. Jim Calhoun shot two airballs in three shots, making him the Joey Waldrop of the event. Surprisingly John Calipari and Jeff Capel tied for first place, and both got to have their pictures taken with the commemorative “Maui Invitational Surfboard”, which is visible all over this place as a symbol of just how gnarly this event is dude.
— The coaches then had their breakout media sessions. The media swarmed around Calipari in droves, led of course by the good Doctor Jerry Tipton. As Calipari came to his table, he saw Tipton and tried to put his lei on Jerry, creating a lot of laughter in the media group. Jerry shunned it, showcasing that he can have a “get off my lawn” mentality even away from the lower 48. Calipari talked about how happy he was with the performance of his team in Portland, mentioned that he wanted to see Deandre Liggins get more shots but that it was his teammates responsibility to reward him for his great defensive effort and said that he isnt sure about Oklahoma because they have shot poorly in one game and great in the other. He then said UK fans were crazy.
— Calipari spoke a great deal about Josh Harrellson and his Hawaiian Jorts. The them of the day was that Jorts is in good shape and thus his self-esteem is better. There was so much talk about Harrellson’s self-esteem that I thought Dr. Phil was going to make an appearance and then lecture The Cats Pause on their rapid loss of subscriptions. The basic story is that Jorts had to do a lot of running because of the Twitter fiasco and now he is in shape, playing better and has confidence and self-esteem…making him very valuable. Self-esteem is this year’s “pooping ice cream” and I would expect to hear it much more often.
— Jeff Capel said this is Calipari’s best shooting team since Memphis and he talked extensively about how much he likes this UK group. He is a huge fan of Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, having recruited them both and he said Jones can be one of the best players in America. He also said his team only has three returning players and that beating UK will be tough. He also seemed the least happy to be wearing his Hawaiian shirt and may have killed two of the interns for the Tournament.
— Finally, the best thing about tournaments such as these is seeing people away from their natural areas. Because of the unique nature of the event, one can see players and coaches hanging out in the lobby, on the beach and everywhere around the area. Today I saw Deandre Liggins going parasailing (and nervous about the ordeal), Jorts and Doron Lamb hooping it up in the pool, John Robic running to a cliff to jump off into the ocean with some of the players and Jon Hood blocking KSR writers on Twitter. It is always a cool thing and fans seem to really enjoy it. For me, the highlights were walking on the beach in the perfect weather, seeing the Heavy Hitter running in the sand (a great dude) and having conversations with Big Blue fans everywhere. We dominate the scene and there may be more of us than all other teams combined. There is nothing like the Big Blue Nation.
More as the week goes along and we will be LIVE BLOGGING FROM THE GAME at 5 PM tomorrow. Dont miss it…it should be a good time….and I might even have on a Hawaiian shirt. More pictures from the day after the jump (click “more”)