Hopefully, we all gave thanks in one way or another on Thursday.
All basketball fans, and especially ones living on the Valley Isle, should add the EA Sports Maui Invitational to their list of things to appreciate, reserving a special place for the 2011 version of the event.
We may never again see anything quite like what we just got for three days of perhaps the best in-season college basketball tournament ever played, fittingly capped by the thrilling championship game between Duke and Kansas.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, shown during the Blue Devils’ win in Wednesday’s EA Sports Maui Invitational championship game, is 15-0 at the Lahaina Civic Center.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER?photo
There had to be close to 3,000 folks in the venerable Lahaina Civic Center, which officially seats 2,400, watching the Blue Devils win 68-61 and run their Maui record to 15-0, dating back to 1992. Certainly, as the years pass, the number of people claiming to have been in the building Wednesday night will grow.
In the ninth edition of this trailblazing event, 20 years ago - when it was developing into what it is now, the unquestioned leader of the slew of holiday tournaments - Duke set a stage of invincibility by rolling past DePaul, LSU and Brigham Young by a collective
The tournament should give thanks it has the Blue Devils, and vice versa.
Mike Krzyzewski is as recognizable a coach as there is in North America, and it is no coincidence an event of this stature has a connection to him. Coach K arrived on Maui on Saturday as the newly minted winningest mentor in NCAA Division I history.
He leaves with 907 victories and counting - it says so in the upper left-hand corner of goduke.com on the "Coach K Win Tracker."
When he first brought a team to Maui, it was as the two-time defending NCAA champion, but following its first Valley Isle crown, Duke finished a 24-8 campaign with a first-round loss in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and second-round loss in the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils have learned how to harness success in Lahaina and use it as a catapult, however. When Duke won on Maui in 1997, it translated into a 32-4 season that ended in the Elite Eight. In 2001, an Invitational championship was part of a 31-4 campaign that included ACC regular-season and tournament crowns and a trip to the Sweet 16. In 2007, a title brought chants of "Cameron West" at the Civic Center and led to a 27-6 record and appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Just exactly where the Blue Devils, ranked sixth by The Associated Press, will end up this time obviously remains to be seen, but the indicators all point to a team with veteran leadership and stellar youth that can win the NCAA title, just as UConn did last season as Maui champion.
Krzyzewski clearly has an intricate plan for this team. He said at the pre-tournament news conference that playing seven games in 12 days, a stretch that ended against Kansas, "is pretty much unprecedented."
Exhibits A and B on just how deep this team is are tournament MVP Ryan Kelly, a 6-foot-11 junior forward who scored 17 points in each game this week, and sensational freshman guard Austin Rivers, an all-tournament pick who averaged 16 points.
Neither made the cut to be one of the players to come into the media room after the title tilt.
One of the Blue Devils who did get brought out for interviews was Tyler Thornton, and there may never have been a more unsung hero.
The sophomore guard came into the championship game with nine shots and 13 points in six games. Thornton, whose defense got him on the floor ahead of Rivers for the last 10 minutes of the final, made a pair of 3-pointers that put the title away.
The first gave the Blue Devils the lead for good, at 63-61 with 70 seconds to play. The second could go down as "The Shot" in Maui Invitational lore. Thornton's off-balance prayer from 25 feet-plus with the shot clock winding down was answered, stretching the lead to five with 20 seconds remaining.
Thornton and the Blue Devils aren't the only ones who can be grateful. In fact, all the other Maui teams have a reason to give thanks.
Kansas, the second-winningest program in college basketball history - currently 90 more than No. 4 Duke - showed that its mix of old and new could be formidable in March. With 51 points and 37 rebounds in Lahaina, Thomas Robinson had a coming-out party, and might be one of the most dominant big men in the country.
Michigan, which took third with its win over UCLA, can be thankful for Tim Hardaway Jr., who averaged 20 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
Like Rivers and Duke's Seth Curry, Hardaway is the son of a former prominent NBA player.
Dell Curry was MVP of the event at Virginia Tech in 1985, when it was a four-team affair at War Memorial Gym. Doc Rivers and Tim Hardaway Sr. were on Maui to watch their boys play, and there were five NBA sons on the rosters for the Duke-Michigan semifinal, with the Wolverines' Jon Horford (Tito) and Blue Devils' Alex Murphy (Jay) joining the party.
UCLA, the eighth-winningest program of all time, is 1-4 with its only win over Chaminade, so perhaps the preseason Pac-12 favorites can give thanks that they got those mighty foes Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State out of the way before being schooled by 16 each by No. 14 Kansas and 15th-ranked Michigan - after leading the Silverswords by two at halftime.
Georgetown will be ranked soon after finishing fifth with a 2-1 mark, losing only to Kansas. Jason Clark had a career-high 28 points against Chaminade on Tuesday and followed that up with 26 in an overtime win over Memphis in a fifth-place game most tournaments would love to have as a final. Clark led all scorers with 69 total points.
Memphis, despite arriving as the nation's No. 8 team and then finishing sixth in the tourney, can give thanks that it has the boyish-looking Josh Pastner, a coach who can convince Luke Walton, a currently locked-out Los Angeles Laker, to work as an assistant until his other gig comes back.
Seventh-place Tennessee can be thankful it has first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, a cancer survivor. This is a guy who learned to be a bulldog at Purdue under Gene Keady and who will get the most out of a team comprising holdovers from the scandal-marred program of Bruce Pearl and several youngsters. As evidenced by the 32-point, 20-rebound performance of Jeronne Maymon in a double-overtime loss to Memphis, the Volunteers are already picking up Martin's toughness - the last three college guys to do that were named Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley.
Chaminade can give thanks it has this tournament - an advantage that no other Division II school can come close to - and an up-and-coming young coach in Eric Bovaird.
And, finally, with the NBA on hold for the foreseeable future and a new Maui Invitational contract secured this week with ESPN, the Valley Isle can give a collective thanks that every year, on the three days before Thanksgiving, it will get a basketball experience like none other.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com