Cats crown the Maui Invitational with a Mahalo — and Thanksgiving dinner

LAHAINA, Hawaii — With the Maui Invitational back in its rightful place in a building perched on the Pacific Ocean’s volcanic slope after two years of COVID-related diversions, coaches are once again faced with making this really tough decision.

Are you leaving Maui right after the tournament ends Wednesday night and speeding to Kahului Airport for a Red Eye flight that will get you home in time for Thanksgiving dinner and the rest of non-conference play?

Or are you staying and enjoying Thanksgiving on the islands and risking getting too comfortable before heading into a next game that might just be a few days away?

Arizona has done it both ways. Lute Olson once led the Wildcats from their 2000 Maui Invitational championship to a game just three days later in Indianapolis against Purdue (the Wildcats predictably lost).

Arizona center Oumar Ballo front left and guard Courtney Ramey celebrate after Arizona defeated Creighton 81-79 in an NCAA collegiate basketball game at the Maui Invitational on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Marco Garcia

Sean Miller, who brought the Wildcats to Maui three times during his 12-year tenure, did it both ways: He brought his boys back right after the last game and kept them with him for the holidays.

It’s not hard to guess what Tommy Lloyd decided to do as a sophomore even before the Wildcats won the Maui Invitational by beating Cincinnati, No. 14 San Diego State and No. 10 Creighton in three days.

“We’re going to hang out,” Lloyd said. “You know, spend Thanksgiving here and then travel back on Friday afternoon. Whenever you come to a place like this, why would you be so quick to leave?”

After Lloyd also erased Arizona’s basketball calendar pending a December 1 game in Utah, Lloyd even invited all of his employees to bring their families. Some players also have relatives who come along. The traveling party of the sports department numbers about 100.

Sunday night’s show was just one of the things that make the Maui Invitational unique. “Every time you come to a place like this,” says UA coach Tommy Lloyd, “why would you be so quick to leave?”

Brian Spurlock/Kemper Lesnik

A good time was planned, win or lose.

“There’s no silver bullet,” says Lloyd. “At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is a special holiday and a lot of players have families here. So the best opportunity for her to spend Thanksgiving with her family or her family in Arizona is to stay here.”

To make it an even bigger party, the entire Arizona Booster group of about 300 participants was also invited to a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. As detailed on UA’s official itinerary, it is intended to include “all guests.”

Meanwhile, with basketball out of the way for now, players should continue to team up in another type of activity. At least those who are comfortable putting on a snorkeling mask and jumping into the sea.

“I’ll probably be the only one staying on shore,” said UA Guard Courtney Ramey, who hails from landlocked St. Louis. “I’m not a great swimmer, so I’ll stay away from the water.”

But even if Ramey doesn’t spend part of the vacation surrounded by tropical fish and sea turtles, he will be surrounded by his family.

Contact sports reporter Bruce Pascoe at [email protected] On Twitter: @brucepascoe