Perfect in paradise
KAANAPALI – Something has to give when the EA Sports Maui Invitational starts today with four intriguing matchups and not a single loss on anyone’s docket.
Perhaps the most intriguing opening-day contest in a field with a combined 30-0 record is the one between Syracuse and Minnesota, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim will carry 924 career wins in to the matchup, while the Golden Gophers’ Richard Pitino has 23.
The last time Pitino was on Maui was in 1993, when he was 11 years old – with his father, Rick Pitino, whose Kentucky team beat Arizona 93-92 in the championship game.
“I’m really excited to certainly be a part of
it, normally you watch as a spectator and this is really the pinnacle of preseason tournaments,” Richard Pitino said. “Unfortunately we have to play Syracuse the first game. Coach Boeheim has about 900 more wins than I do.”
Boeheim, who won Maui Invitational titles in both of his previous trips, in 1990 and 1998, had Rick Pitino as an assistant from 1976 to 1978 during Boeheim’s first two seasons at Syracuse.
“I had forgotten that we had won this tournament – anything before 2005 I can’t remember anymore,” joked the 69-year-old Boeheim. “I do remember Richard being born I hope that he remembers that, that we were nice to him coming in. We had a little baby shower and everything.”
Richard Pitino, who led Florida International to an 18-14 record last season, has been an assistant six times against Boeheim, at Louisville and Florida, going 3-3 in those games.
“I have got so much respect for coach Boeheim,” Pitino said. “My family has known him for a long time, my mother loves him. I’m not sure if she will be rooting for me or him tomorrow, but it is going to be really, really exciting.”
The Orange are ninth in The Associated Press rankings, entering the release of today’s poll.
“It is going to be difficult, they are always very, very good and certainly consistently one of the very best teams in the country,” Pitino said. “Somebody asked me if I watched any of their film against Louisville last year and I was trying to see what they did We don’t have anybody who can do what they do.”
ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes, the master of ceremonies for Sunday morning’s news conference at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, said Pitino is an up-and-coming coach.
“He’s only 31 years old, but he has been around the game of basketball his entire life,” Dykes said. “He’s been on the coaching staff obviously with his dad at Louisville, he has grown up around the dinner table and NBA locker rooms. He’s very, very comfortable in who he is as a 31-year-old head coach.”
Dykes said the influence of Rick Pitino and Florida coach Billy Donovan will be evident today when the Golden Gophers take the floor.
“He’s completely changing the culture of Minnesota basketball – they are going to get up and down that floor,” Dykes said. “I’m pretty sure they pressed the flight attendants on the way over, that’s who they are now.”
Dykes got to Hawaii on the same flight as the Syracuse team, and said the trip illustrated Boeheim’s approach.
Dykes was in first class, courtesy of ESPN, while his wife and daughter sat in coach – which was where Boeheim could also be found.
“I went back to check on them a couple times and my 8-year-old daughter finally said, ‘Dad, I want to sit up in first class with you. It’s too crowded back here, I don’t like it,’ ” Dykes said. “I leaned and I said, ‘Listen, Jim Boeheim, the head coach of Syracuse, is right behind you. I don’t want to hear another word, you understand?’ That’s who coach Boeheim is, he’s hanging with his guys, but he is Syracuse basketball. He has poured his life into that university in more ways than just the basketball program.”
The Orange are 4-0 this season, while the Gophers are 5-0. Never before in the 30-year history of the event has every team arrived unbeaten and having played at least one game.
“This is as good a tournament as I have been in in 30-some years in terms of the field,” Boeheim said.
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org