HONOLULU, Hawaii —
All you have to do is take one look at Indiana State’s team hotel to realize ISU’s participation in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic is a tad different from your average road trip.
The palm trees, Aloha shirts and bikinis give it away first. Then there’s the palatial amenities of the hotel itself, which sits smack dab in the middle of Honolulu’s famed Waikiki Beach. Surf, sand and other delights are literally at ISU’s doorstep.
There’s plenty of incongruence to go around. ISU assistant coaches were stretched out on lounge chairs on Waikiki Friday … with laptops in hand to do their film study.
Part one of ISU’s Friday practice was in a University of Hawaii auxiliary gym that would’ve been open-air if not from chicken wire strewn over the windows. Part two was more standard as it took place inside the Stan Sheriff Center, where the Diamond Head Classic games will be played.
It’s hard to fathom, given the Polynesian surroundings and the innumerable tropical pleasures of Hawaii, that this is a business trip and that most of it is all about basketball.
But it is.
“This is definitely more of a business trip than the Bahamas trip,” ISU guard Jake Odum said.
“That was more for fun, but we have a goal in mind here. We want to win a championship. This is as good a scale in comparison to the conference tournament.”
In fact, ISU’s three games in the Diamond Head Classic are probably the most important nonconference games the Sycamores (5-3) will play. Not just as a litmus test of how ISU will fare in the encroaching Missouri Valley Conference campaign, but how they stack up against a difficult Diamond Head Classic field.
“We talked a lot about it before we left. We came here to win three games in [four] days, not sit on the beach and hang out,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
ISU left Terre Haute at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday and arrived at 1 p.m. Hawaii time after a long commercial flight via Phoenix. ISU got some sightseeing out of the way immediately as the team visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial directly after deplaning at the Honolulu airport.
Lansing also gave the Sycamores free time Thursday aside from practice. Starting Friday, however, the team is trying to treat it like any other road trip.
Lansing saw avoidance of distractions as a smaller part of a larger task the team has faced all season.
“We’re not mature yet. We have some growing up to do as a team on the court handling distractions when things aren’t going well in games. This team has to mature. We’re going to learn real quick,” said Lansing, who said that ISU’s two full practices were good since arriving in Hawaii.
ISU’s Diamond Head Classic quest starts with Mississippi at 4 p.m. EST today on ESPNU. The Rebels are 8-1 and have a formidable starting five, four of whom average double figures in scoring.
High-flying Ole Miss has averaged 81.6 points per game. Its lone loss was to Middle Tennessee State.
Guard Marshall Henderson is the Rebels’ leading scorer at 17.8 points. He’s a 35-percent 3-point shooter.
“He’s a terrific shooter. We’ll have to matchup early and not let him get going,” Odum said.
Perhaps more threatening to ISU is the Rebels’ inside duo of Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
Holloway, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound forward, averages 14.7 points and 10.4 rebounds. Buckner, a 6-9, 235-pound forward, averages 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Ole Miss averages 42.9 rebounds per game, good for 10th in the nation. ISU’s front line will be tested.
“I don’t know that we’ve played against two better interior guys. They’re tough, physical and athletic as all git out. They combined for 10 offensive rebounds against Marymount … and that hasn’t been our strength,” Lansing said.
Guard Nick Williams is the other Ole Miss double-figure scorer at 10.1 points. Ole Miss has relied heavily on its starting five. Guard Derrick Millinghous is the only Rebel who’s averaged more than 15 minutes off the bench.
If ISU gets past Ole Miss, the challenge potentially becomes even bigger. San Diego State and San Francisco play in the other semifinal in ISU’s bracket. The Aztecs are 9-1 and ranked 18th in the Associated Press poll. The Dons have lost three straight, but are 5-4 and play in the solid West Coast Conference.
The other side of the bracket includes No. 7 Arizona (9-0), Miami (7-1, unranked, but 12th in RPI), East Tennessee State (2-7) and host Hawaii (5-3).
“This field is loaded. It’s really, really loaded. We’re going to have to compete like crazy just to have a chance,” Lansing said.
The Sycamores’ most recent visit to Hawaii ended in an 0-3 trip that helped to scuttle the 2004-05 season. Obviously, ISU is hoping to avoid that fate this time.
“We got that win over IUPUI and we needed it. This tournament has to push-start us for the Valley. We need to try and win it. The push starts tomorrow,” ISU swingman Khristian Smith said.
ISU defeated its last Southeastern Conference foe, a 61-55 win at Vanderbilt last season.
Jake Odum interview
Khristian Smith interview