Vermont ready after a day at the beach
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dayton Morinaga
It wasn't your typical Vermont day in Waikiki yesterday.
Blue skies, temperatures in the 80s, and a tempting beach were enough for the Vermont men's basketball team to improvise its workout schedule.
The Catamounts attended Christmas mass yesterday morning, then "warmed up" for practice by doing push-ups and sit-ups on Waikiki Beach.
"Probably not the best way to get ready for a game," Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan said. "But we're used to being in two feet of snow back home. We're here on business, but this is so different from what we're used to, we want to make sure we enjoy it, too."
The business part starts tomorrow when the 45th annual Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic opens at the Stan Sheriff Center. The eight-team tournament will feature 12 games over four days.
There appears to be no clear-cut favorite this year.
The teams in the field are host University of Hawai'i, Buffalo, Colorado, Colorado State, Coppin State, George Washington, Pepperdine and Vermont.
"If you look at the teams, anybody can win it," Hawai'i head coach Bob Nash said. "We feel like we're in it because this is our tournament, our home court, and we're going to do the best we can to defend our home court."
The Rainbow Warriors will host Colorado State in tomorrow's second game at 7:30 p.m.
Last year, Hawai'i went 0-3 and finished in last place in the Rainbow Classic.
"It has nothing to do with last year," Nash said. "We're a different team this year, and all the other teams are different."
Tomorrow's first game between Vermont and George Washington at 5 p.m. could be the most intriguing matchup of the tournament.
Vermont has a 6-3 record; George Washington is 6-2. It is the only first-round matchup featuring two teams with winning records.
"We're just trying to win that first game, that's our only concern right now," George Washington head coach Karl Hobbs said. "All the teams here are quality teams with a very good group of up-and-coming coaches. But right now, I think Vermont is the best team here."
Sunday's first-round games will be Buffalo against Pepperdine at 5 p.m., followed by Colorado against Coppin State at 7:30 p.m.
"You have to be at your best for three consecutive days if you want to win all three games," Colorado head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "Playing three consecutive days exposes you to a lot of different styles and presents a lot of challenges, physically as well as mentally. It's something that will make you a better team, win or lose."
The visiting coaches like to talk about how the Rainbow Classic prepares their teams for conference play, and then —hopefully — postseason tournaments.
"It's a chance for our guys to connect with each other," Bzdelik said. "With a young team like ours, you hope a tournament like this gives you a chance to improve in a short period of time."
The tournament does have its share of individual stars.
Vermont forward Marqus Blakely is a double-double machine, averaging 17.0 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He has 19 double-doubles since last season, including four this year.
Coppin State point guard Tywain McKee is ranked among the top 20 scorers in the country, averaging 20.6 points per game.
Other players of note include Hawai'i's Roderick Flemings, Buffalo guard Rodney Pierce, Colorado guard Cory Higgins, Colorado State guard Marcus Walker, and Vermont guard Mike Trimboli.
Interestingly, this year's field includes three first-time participants (Buffalo, Coppin State and Vermont) and four teams from the Eastern time zone (Buffalo, Coppin State, George Washington and Vermont).
"It's hard to get out of your mind that it really is Christmas here," Vermont's Lonergan said. "You know it's going to be nice and warm, but this is beyond what I thought it would be. It looked like a summer day out on the beach. There were so many people."
Reach Dayton Morinaga at firstname.lastname@example.org.