Duke is the best show in town, even in Maui

Duke is the best show in town, even in Maui

MAUI, Hawaii — After Vlade Divac found his seat in the second half of No. 1 Duke’s 90-64 win over San Diego State in the Maui Invitational on Monday, he turned around in his chair to speak to a couple of fans positioned behind him.

“Can you guys see?” asked the 7-foot-1 former NBA star and current Sacramento Kings president.

The energized scene at the Lahaina Civic Center on Monday was additional proof that this version of Duke has the most fascinating collection of talent in college basketball since Michigan’s Fab Five.

Divac was just one of the high-ranking NBA executives who sat on the baseline to watch Duke’s freshman stars — Cam Reddish, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett — who could go Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the 2019 NBA draft.

At halftime of Monday’s game, Divac, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Los Angeles Clippers executive Lawrence Frank, Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge and Golden State Warriors executive Bob Myers all mingled alongside representatives from dozens of NBA teams.

Yes, the Duke Blue Devils are the early favorites to win the national title. But they’re also rock stars even 4,700 miles from Durham, North Carolina, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

When they entered the gym during Auburn’s overtime win over Xavier, folks in the stands murmured and stared. Then dozens of fans grabbed their smartphones and snapped photos of the Blue Devils, who stood together next to the court as security officials warned anyone who got too close to the young stars.

They seemed unbothered by the pregame frenzy.

“I try to really just ignore it, just continue to work hard and listen to Coach,” said Reddish, who finished with 16 points.

It’s a constant process for a team full of former prep stars who, in just three weeks, have become the collective center of college basketball’s universe.

Late in Monday’s game, Williamson tapped a loose ball and made a run toward the rim. Everyone in the building expected him to do something to dazzle the audience, so there was a gradual buzz as he dribbled up the floor.

Fans began to rise from their seats. The NBA executives in the building perked up. And then Williamson lifted himself off the ground, put his forehead near the rim and completed the fast break with a windmill dunk that ignited the arena and populated social media feeds in the minutes that followed.

More confirmation.

Right now, this is not just basketball.

It’s the best show in town.

“We got a lot of hype going around right now,” said Tre Jones, who scored 14, “and Coach has been trying to keep us real humble.”

Maui tribute

After his team’s 90-64 victory over San Diego State, Mike Krzyzewski mentioned former Associated Press sportswriter Jim O’Connell, who died in July. He was 64.

The Maui Invitational was one of O’Connell’s favorite events. In his honor, tournament organizers saved him a seat in the media room, complete with a nameplate and a lei on a chair.

Krzyzewski was staring at the memorial when he was asked a question about the game.

“Yeah, they clogged the lane,” Krzyzewski said in response before mentioning O’Connell. “By the way, I didn’t notice [the memorial] until they were asking questions. Brought a smile to my face to see the chair for Jim O’Connell and God bless him. This was one of his favorite, favorites, and he was the only guy to ever come here and never see the beach. And even coaches on the day off or something, we walk the beach … he wouldn’t do that. So that’s a cool thing. Repeat your question. I was in a different mood.”