The Maui Invitational has been good and bad to Kentucky. The good?
Of course, there was also 2006, where Kentucky faced Memphis and John Calipari in his second year using the Dribble Drive Motion. After dropping a tough one to UCLA, Kentucky was sliced to ribbons by Memphis in a defeat that many of the Big Blue Faithful still feel the haunting sting of. Interestingly enough, that loss marked the beginning of the decline of the Big Blue Empire, ironically resurrected by the same coach who began it.
But now that he's at Kentucky, Calipari finds the Maui Invitational less than ideal:
Calipari: "The thing I didn’t like about the schedule was Hawaii. We were locked into it (Maui Invitational). It was done before I got here and people had flights. You could have home games. Those are three games for a young team traveling across country, and then coming back.
"The games after that are hard. I have done that. When I saw it, I didn’t like it. It takes away from what you have at home. That’s what you buy into. Instead of having 31 games, you have 30. That one game for this program is $600,000.
"But that being said, the schedule is harder than it was a year ago. We have tougher road games, a harder overall schedule. Our league is better. You have two teams that will be in the top 10 above us, both Florida and Tennessee. Georgia will be way better than people expect or understand, and we have to play all those people twice. That’s six games."
I get that this is a young team, and I think Calipari is right that the Maui Invitational is hard on teams. The flight to Hawai'i is long, the jet lag is a real factor on flights of that length, you have three games in rapid succession, you fly back the next day and have maybe four days to recover before lacing them up again.
I understand Calipari's complaint, but what happened to all the bravado we heard about playing top teams at neutral arenas and such? Anyone, anywhere, anytime ... except Maui? That is the trip of a lifetime for some of these kids, and even though adults may suffer a bit from the travel time, these young guys can handle it. Any good team can sustain a loss or two in Maui without season-debilitating consequences.
There are always top teams in the Maui event, and even though the circumstances are less than ideal, you really can't pick and choose. Maui has to be scheduled years in a advance, and it makes it really hard to plan for in terms of what kind of teams you have.
I'm sorry, but I'm just not persuaded by Calipari's argument here. None of the other participants were able to schedule Maui based on their team experience, and neither can Kentucky. These are things you just can't control, other than by refusing to go out west at all. I think that would be a mistake.
As for the money, my response is, "So what?" Other teams do this, and it costs them money, too. On a relative basis, $300,000 to one school may be more than $600,000 is to UK. I hate the idea that every scheduling decision made at Kentucky is about the money. I know to think otherwise is naive, but it rankles nonetheless. Intellectually, I understand Calipari's position. Emotionally, it annoys me. Play anybody. Who cares where and when? What's $600,000 in the broader scheme of things? Is that all college basketball is about these days?
Feh. I probably just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.