Ocean Close By, But Minds Still on Basketball

Nov. 20, 2006

By Simit Shah –

Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii — The Jackets’ second full day in Hawaii got off to an early start as the team made its final preparations for the start of EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Coach Paul Hewitt participated in an 8 a.m. Sunday morning press conference featuring all eight coaches. Set against the backdrop of palm trees and the ocean at the Westin Maui, the mood was light. The coaches answered a handful of questions, but they mostly laughed at the one-liners delivered by DePaul’s Jerry Wainwright.

Afterwards, Hewitt and the other coaches posed with surf boards decorated with the tournament logo and their respective school names, mostly for the benefit of ESPN’s cameras.

The finale of the morning event was a free throw shooting contest. Each coach was paired with a local middle school student, and they each shot three free throws.

When Hewitt came to the line, he never hesitated. He drained his three free throws without even taking a dribble.

Alas, the winner of the competition was Chaminade’s Matt Mahar and his partner, who were a perfect six-for-six. Immediately afterwards, Hewitt and the team drove 45 minutes to practice for two hours at Maui High School.

The session was less rigorous than usual, according to forward Jeremis Smith.

“We were just reinforcing some things today,” he said. “It was more of a teaching tool rather than burning our legs out. There was a lot of instruction.”

Smith and his teammates attended a tip-off reception in the evening that featured fire-brandishing Hawaiian performers and television analyst Billy Packer as the keynote speaker.

Other than that, it was a day focused primarily on basketball rather than the beautiful surroundings, which is just fine with the players.

“We see this as the same as if it’s an ACC trip to Maryland, Tallahassee or Durham,” said Smith, sitting less than fifty yards from the ocean. “It’s the same thing, but it’s just more scenic out here. We just block all that out and treat this as a business trip. We’ll relax once we get the trophy Wednesday.”

While the team has been all business, rest assured that there are some members of the traveling party soaking up the sun and fun. Most of the families of the coaching staff made the trip, including Hewitt’s wife, daughters and parents.

“I don’t see them, so I assume they are having a good time,” Hewitt said, laughing.

The only spouse that didn’t make the trip is the wife of assistant coach Pete Zaharis. Ritsa Zaharis is eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child, and Hewitt and Zaharis were both quick to note that she’s not pleased about missing out on Maui.

“It wasn’t good this morning when I said, `Here, listen to the ocean.’ It wasn’t good at all,” Zaharis cracked.

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