LAHAINA, HAWAII – Louisville coach Rick Pitino — Gophers coach Richard Pitino’s father — told WDRB Sports on Tuesday that Louisville and Minnesota are planning to open the 2014-15 season with a father vs. son game taking place on a military base somewhere.
“We’re working on that now, but it could be [in] Puerto Rico if it all works,” Rick Pitino told WDRB. “We haven’t signed contracts. It’s a long way from done. But it could be on a military base opening the season next year.”
Richard Pitino responded via text that the two programs were “working on it.”
Hot start, cold finish
Guard Malik Smith, like the rest of the Gophers, couldn’t seem to buy a basket in the second half. But in the first, the Florida International transfer showed noticeable improvement and aggressiveness for the second consecutive game. Smith finished with 15 points — 13 of them in the first half, when he hit two big three-pointers and slashed to the basket to score on a couple of drives.
“Malik brings great energy,” guard Andre Hollins said. “We always have that extra weapon.”
When Tom Corneil heard the Gophers would be in Hawaii for the Maui Invitational, following along on vacation was a no-brainer.
“Twist my arm a little harder, why don’t you?” the Willmar native said.
So Corneil, along with his wife, Karen, and several of their friends — many met along the Minnesota traveling trail — did what they always do when the Gophers travel somewhere that seems fun: They hop on a plane.
The Corneils, along with about 90 others, traveled through Creative Charter, a company that helps organize travel for Gophers fans. Founder Steve Erban said that Creative Charter traveled about the same number of fans to Maui as they did to the Bahamas a year ago, 60 percent of those fans being repeat journeyers.
They’ve come for the sun, they’ve come for the experience, and for three games in three days in the tiny Lahaina Civic Center, normally reserved for high school games. Perhaps it’s the heat setting in, but it’s also a group that’s remained remarkably positive despite losses to Syracuse on Monday and Arkansas on Tuesday.
“I like the small-arena atmosphere because it just gives it that much more packed in and loud and all the intensity and whatnot,” said Tyler Emanuel, a Savage native who came along with brother, Tony Emanuel, who is a student manager for the team. He brought along his girlfriend, Anne Mackin, and his uncle, Scott Larson, as well.
“Great excuse,” Larson said.
“It’s much warmer than Minnesota right now,” Mackin added.
Emanuel likes the team’s direction, even if the Gophers dropped two games in two days, the second in ugly fashion. Folks such as Willmar’s Dean Johnson, who serves on the Minnesota Board of Regents, know that even if Minnesota struggles now, there is a bright future ahead.
That, along with the sand and the waves, help to soothe fans after a rocky beginning to the prestigious tournament.
“It’s the start of a dream — we’re watching history happen,” said Nancy Lindahl, a donor from Wayzata, before the Arkansas lost. “The cultures is changing and we’re seeing what the possibilities can be. I’ve been on these trips before and there’s a new excitement. There’s confidence I haven’t seen before.”
Warm weather aside, Arkansas freshman forward Bobby Portis was reminded of the summer because of the Razorbacks-Gophers game. There aren’t many regular-season games, after all, that are played at 9 a.m. local time.
“In AAU basketball, you get up early and play two or three games in one day,” Portis said. “I just feel like it’s all mental, it’s all in your brain.”
• Pitino said guard Maverick Ahanmisi, who was averaging 9.2 minutes per game and had played in every contest coming into Maui, was healthy and available, despite not logging any minutes in either of the Gophers’ first two Maui Invitational matchups.