LAHAINA, Hawaii — Bill Raftery, a color analyst for both CBS and ESPN who is working some of the Maui Invitational games, gave Arkansas guard Ronnie Brewer high marks on Monday.
"Brewer is the consummate team player," Raftery said. "I've only seen the tapes of him this year and the practices here, but it's refreshing to watch him inter-mingle with his teammates. He seems to have a nice way with them — very supportive."
Raftery also said, "Arkansas is getting better. They're kind of like Maryland — they may have the third best team in their conference, because they're up and some of the other teams are down."
Raftery said he liked Arkansas' size, with its inside tandem of 6-foot-10 Darian Townes and 7-foot Steven Hill.
"Hill has a big upside," Raftery said. "He could blossom all of a sudden. That happens to big guys sometimes. Hill and Townes together could be man-eaters. I like Charles Thomas, too, and Arkansas has good perimeter players."
Brewer told the Maui News, "We're looking at this tournament as a coming-out party."
Hill is the second-tallest player in the tournament; Will Bowers of Maryland is 7-1.
With five Top 25 teams in the Maui Invitational, and the Lahaina Civic Center holding just 2,400 fans, tickets are at a premium. On eBay, some tourney tickets are going for $3,000. Face value for single-game tickets is $43.
At least the gym here is air conditioned now. When Arkansas played in the 1991 Maui Invitational, fans sweltered.
The Razorbacks defeated Minnesota and Chaminade that year, before losing to Michigan State in the finals.
Michigan State, after losing 84-62 to Hawaii on Saturday, struggled for much of the first half against Chaminade in the Maui Invitational opener before scoring six straight points in the final stages to go up 40-34 at halftime.
Forward Maurice Ager, a Wooden Award watch list member, scored 14 of his game-high 23 points in the first half for the Spartans, who went on to win handily 89-67.
Others in this tournament on the Wooden Award watch list are Brewer, Hassan Adams of Arizona, Rudy Gay and Josh Boone of Connecticut, Nik Caner-Medley of Maryland, Paul Davis of Michigan State and Adam Morrison of Gonzaga.
Sports Illustrated has projected Gay as the top pick in the 2006 NBA draft.
Arkansas senior guard Eric Ferguson, who faces a Jan. 20 court date in Springdale on a driving-while-intoxicated charge from Nov. 6, had his two-game Razorbacks suspension lifted Sunday after a talk with coach Stan Heath on Saturday night.
Heath said he decided Ferguson was ready to return after their "heart-to-heart" talk.
Ferguson sat out one exhibition game plus the Hogs' official opener against Portland State last Friday.
Hawgs Illustrated recruiting editor Dudley Dawson reported that singer/actor Kris Kristofferson was on his flight to Maui.
Willie Nelson and Oprah Winfrey have digs here, too, but no one has sighted either of them this week.
Former Boston Celtics guard Danny Ainge is here, and so are Rick Majerus and Jay Bilas of ESPN.
Arkansas Chancellor John White and his wife Mary Lib are enjoying their stay, although they and others in the UA group had to wait three extra hours at their Honolulu stopover for their luggage to arrive on another plane.
Hogs fan Jim von Gremp planned to watch all 12 games of the Maui Invitational — which locals have dubbed the Far West Regional.
"I just love it," von Gremp said.
A man dressed as Santa Claus walked around the arena with a surfboard under his arm Monday, perhaps to remind tourists that surfing lessons are available from 9 to 11 a.m. daily near the Westin Maui.
Six teams here have won national basketball titles: Connecticut (1999, 2004); Michigan State (1979, 2000); Kansas (1952, 1988); Maryland (2002); Arizona (1997) and Arkansas (1994).
Kansas is the winningest school here, with 1,847 all-time wins. Arizona is second with 1,488 and Arkansas third at 1,407, among the teams here.
Arizona coach Lute Olson, third on the winningest active coaches list, came in with 741 wins. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had 703.
Teams signed up to compete in the Maui Invitational the next two years include Duke, Kentucky, Oklahoma, UCLA and Illinois.
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