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Monday, November 27, 2006

Tigers Wowed by Beauty on Maui

Tigers wowed by beauty on Maui

By Dan Wolken
November 19, 2006

LAHAINA, Hawaii -- The University of Memphis basketball team had been in paradise for about 19 hours, all of which had been consumed by work, work, work.

After arriving here Friday afternoon, the Tigers immediately bussed off to practice, followed by dinner, sleep and another practice at 8 Saturday morning.

But finally, after that was over, there was free time to enjoy this lush island and Kaanapali Beach, which fronts the resort where the Tigers are staying.

"I know we came down here to play ball, but now we're going to have a good time," freshman forward Pierre Niles said. "We're going to take care of business when we get on the court. When we're off the court, we're gonna have fun."

Because after all, isn't fun what the EA Sports Maui Invitational is all about?

Though No. 13-ranked Memphis will be all-business beginning at 1:30 p.m. CST Monday, when it tips off against Oklahoma, there's a reason Tigers coach John Calipari scheduled an arrival in Maui one day before several of the other participating schools.

By getting some work out of the way early, the Tigers could have ample free time to experience the beach and the other sights of Lahaina, an old whaling town with a lively downtown strip that several players went to check out Saturday before an evening party for the teams.

Others simply stayed by the expansive pool area or walked out the landmark Black Rock of Kaanapali, which juts from the side of Memphis' resort and provides a natural diving board into the Pacific Ocean.

"It's beautiful," junior center Joey Dorsey said. "I've been taking pictures since I got here. When I went to the Bahamas this summer it wasn't that good. But when I see the palm trees and everything, I love it out here. We're going to go swimming and go downtown and see what's poppin' down there."

The free time was a reward for a long, tiring trip that began in Memphis just before 9 Friday morning when their chartered 757 roared toward the West with the team in front and a large contingent of fans in the back.

Almost 12 hours later, after a short refueling stop in Las Vegas, the Tigers landed in Maui. But their day still wasn't over. Wanting to keep his team's energy up and let players get their legs under them after the long flight, Calipari put the Tigers through a short workout.

"It was definitely a long plane ride, and we had to jump out of the plane and go straight to practice," sophomore forward Robert Dozier said. "It was tough on us (Friday). We were kind of upset about that, but we got through it and we rested up last night.

"We just came out here to play basketball. I'm hoping we can get this thing started Monday and get it rolling."

The Tigers practiced at a local high school Friday, but Saturday, they got their first look at Lahaina Civic Center, the 2,400-seat gym which, for a few days every November, becomes the capital of college basketball.

Players said the humidity inside the gym was so intense, even the playing surface was sweating.

"It was super hot," Dorsey said. "We had to have towels on the floor, players had to get towels every minute. It was hot in there."

Despite the lack of amenities inside, there are plenty everywhere else. That is, if you consider 80-degree temperatures, a luxury resort, world-class restaurants and a bright blue ocean as amenities.

"I knew it was going to be beautiful," Niles said, "but I didn't know it was going to be like this."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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