Continental's 767 jet has a state of the art entertainment system featuring a remote control that unhooks from the seat arm rest. It allows you to browse 20 music channels, 10 video channels, and even play video games. I find a station of Hebrew music, aptly named "Shalom," and I tune in, not wanting to miss an opportunity to connect with my heritage. Soon, I am introduced to the Orthodox reggae groove of Matisyahu. I spend much if the eight hour flight between Houston and Honolulu switching between Shalom, my iPod and Michael Bay's Transformers on the video channel. It is very hard to choose between listening to Hebrew music and watching Megan Fox. Okay, who am I kidding? Transformers wins out.
After landing in Honolulu, we have one more half hour flight to Maui, and likely a very expensive cab ride to the hotel, ahead of us. On the way to the hotel in Lahaina, our cab driver points out a square patch of lights on the mountain off to our left. "Very expensive neighborhood," he says. "Oprah and Tiger Woods live there." He goes on to explain that the top of the mountain rises over 10,000 feet above sea level. I would have been interested, had I not been distracted by the marching cab fare. By that time it is around $35 and still climbing.
The time is now 8:00 p.m. locally (midnight back home). Honoapiilani Highway is the only main road to Lahaina. It winds along between dense foliage on one side and the coastline on the other. It is not lit at all, so the going is slow. This does not help the cab fare.
We finally reach the Kaanapali Beach Hotel, about a mile and a half north of the Lahaina Civic Center, and pay the damages of our trek from the airport - $85.40 paid to our native cabbie, easily the most expensive ride of my life. Good thing we had already decided to walk everywhere else we needed to go the rest of the trip.
Our hotel, we later find out, is in the same seaside complex as the Westin Maui where the team and boosters are staying. We get settled in our fifth floor suite. For the first time since we got to Hawaii, there is no view to speak of. No matter.
After using the wireless internet from the lobby to download a few Matisyahu tracks, I am exhausted from a long day of travel and ready to call it a night.
We wake up at 6:30 a.m. local time in order to get to the Civic Center at around 8:00. The hotel has provided us with complimentary breakfast vouchers good for one of the first two days of our stay (after that, breakfast there is ridiculously expensive). We strategically plan to use them tomorrow, since we will have breakfast – and lunch – at the Civic Center today gratis. After the cab ride yesterday we really have no choice The walk to the Civic Center is longer than I think it will be. In the humid, high ‘70s weather, I quickly lose the tie and long sleeves I leave the hotel with. From the edge of the highway, the crystal blue water of the Pacific Ocean is no more than 50 yards to our right, and the neighboring island of Lanai can be seen clearly on the horizon.
The Civic Center staff is very kind to us, in the Hawaiian tradition of hospitality, and the breakfast spread is very nice. There are few things in this world better than fresh Hawaiian pineapple. One of them, however, is the artisan bread sandwich that we eat for lunch.
I sit down in one of the wooden chairs on press row behind Chaminade's basket and can't help but notice how much my ass still hurts from that eight hour plane ride. (I can write "ass" on the internet, can't I?). I am also very thankful that the Lahaina Civic Center staff installed air conditioning in the gym during the off-season.
There are a bunch of NBA scouts sitting in front of us, no doubt many of them at the early game to see Dominic James. James does not disappoint in terms of flash, throwing down two monster dunks right in front of them toward the end of the first half. He finishes with a solid 11 points, taking a back seat to Jerel McNeal's 23, and three steals.
I don't ask any of the scouts, but it seems to me that Marko Kolaric presents himself as a potential NBA prospect as well. He has size (6-11, 230) and uses it well on the defensive end of the floor. He records a double-double (19 points, 14 rebounds) against the Golden Eagles' front line and tallies Chaminade's only two blocks of the game.
Watching the LSU-OK State game, I start to feel very afraid of playing the Cowboys in the second round. Not because of their overall size advantage and the 25-point performance of James Anderson, but because of their fans. The bleachers behind Coach Sean Sutton's bench is a loud, raucous sea of orange.
We don't even get seats for the Duke game. This really isn't a surprise to us. Nor is the offensive onslaught the Blue Devils unleash on hapless Princeton. Duke lead 40-11 with seven minutes remaining in the first half. Kyle Singler, the much heralded freshman, is the real deal. He scores Duke's first eight points and is equally smooth under the basket and behind the three point line. Disappointed that there is no dinner spread, we leave at halftime.
We leave with backpacks weighed down with media guides. When I change clothes, I discover strap lines from the backpack on my shoulders. We hit the beach just as the sun is setting behind distant clouds. Overhead, the sky is clear, and we toss a baseball around until it becomes too dark to see.
Not bad for the first day in paradise.