Nov. 22, 2006
By Simit Shah –
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii — The last five days have been more about the hardwood than Hawaii, and it showed during the course of the Jackets’ valiant comeback 92-85 victory over Memphis at the EA Sports Maui Invitational.
Paul Hewitt set the tone early in this trip, mentioning after their first practice on Saturday that the most enjoyment on this trip will come from winning rather than enjoying their tropical surroundings. His players have bought into the philosophy, as many of them have referred to this as a business trip rather than a vacation.
“This is what it’s all about,” said senior Mario West after the win over the Tigers. “All the sweat and hard work you put in, this is the reward right here. You can’t put a monetary value on that. We still have one more to go, and then we’ll have fun later.”
The reins have loosened a little in the last day. On Monday night, the team ate at a restaurant for the first time since they arrived in Maui. Tuesday morning’s breakfast was a little later than usual, so players got a chance to venture outside their beachfront hotel.
Freshmen Ty Anderson and Brad Sheehan used the opportunity to take a morning dip in the ocean. Jeremis Smith and Lewis Clinch checked out the beach later in the day before heading to the Lahaina Civic Center for Tuesday’s game.
The team flies back to Atlanta late on Thursday, so more freedom will be given Thanksgiving day.
Smith is the only player that’s been to Hawaii previously. He made several trips with his father and uncles to Honolulu, usually centered around the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl.
It’s been more than eight years since their last trip, but he has plenty of fond memories.
“I remember one time we were eating one table away from Emmitt Smith,” said the Texas native. “I’m a huge Cowboys fan, so that was cool. Another time we saw Deion Sanders.”
Smith’s experience doesn’t exactly mean that he’s interested in serving as a travel guide to his teammates. “There’s so much to see and do, so I’m just let them do their own thing,” he said. “That can all wait until we’re done playing.”
If they need any advice on what to do, they can ask Tom Coopat, one of the few Georgia Tech alumni that call Maui home. The retired executive lives in Wailea part of the island, and he’s been looking forward to seeing the Jackets in person for some time.
“I haven’t seen a live Tech game since I graduated in 1966,” said Coopat, who was the captain of the Georgia Tech swim team his senior year. “I’ve been waiting for this ever since they announced Tech would play here.”
Before he and his wife Cheryle settled in Maui five years ago, Coopat spent 24 years working in Asia. Following Georgia Tech was a challenge, so he especially relished his seat just a few rows behind the Jackets’ bench.
“Back in the 80’s, I had to wait until Tuesday to get a football score,” he said. “Now I can follow everything on the Internet, and I get to see them here for three days.”