In the fall of 1993, I spent the weeks leading up to my 14th birthday begging my parents for a single present: to spend Thanksgiving week -- including my birthday -- in Hawaii. I can't tell you what kind of party I actually wound up having, or a single gift that I received, but I vividly remember pleading with my parents to take this trip to Hawaii.
"You love Hawaii," I reminded my mother over and over, and when that didn't get me anywhere, resorted to desperate bargaining: "It can count for the next three years of birthday presents," I offered. "Four! Four birthdays, no presents. Actually, you know what? This can be it. The last birthday present you ever give me. Just this one thing and I'll never ask for anything again. Can we please just go to Hawaii for my birthday and Thanksgiving?"
"I am not going to Hawaii to sit around in a gymnasium and watch basketball," my mother rebuffed me, and I knew the dream was over. I would not be there to watch Reggie Freeman, B.J. Tyler, Terrence Rencher, and Albert Burditt battle Kentucky in the Longhorns' first ever appearance in the Maui Invitational. (Texas would get crushed 86-61 in the opening round of the '93 Maui Invitational, before winning its next two over Tennessee Tech and Notre Dame to win the consolation bracket.)
It would be another 11 years before Texas received another invitation to the tournament, and when in the fall of 2004 it did, I was a recent college grad with no money, placing a November trip to Maui totally out of reach. The Longhorns wouldn't have to wait as long for their third invite, returning to the field again in '08, but once again I was in no position to attend, tied up by law school commitments. But I swore up and down that the next time Texas played in the Maui Invitational, I was going to be there, come hell or high water.
Four years later, the Longhorns are headed to Maui once again... and this time I'm going with them. Not that my excitement isn't obvious, but one person who knows exactly how excited I am about it is Prince Ibeh, who had the misfortune of heading to Five Guys this evening at the same time I did. Prince is a shy kid, and I am... well, not. For a moment he seemed grateful that there was a fanboy who wanted to talk to him about Maui, but that was when he expected me to be brief. I was not brief.
But you know what? I've been waiting for this trip for longer than young Mr. Ibeh has been alive. And after all these years, on Tuesday afternoon I'll be celebrating my 33rd birthday in the stands of the Lahaina Civic Center... watching the Longhorns in paradise.
Next: In Part II, the previewing begins in earnest with a look at this year's Maui Invitational field.