12/01/2013 02:38 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2014

After 30 Years, the Maui Is Still Nō Ka 'Oi

I vividly remember as a kid cramping in a warm Lahaina gym with my hoops-obsessed father, as he pointed out the basketball dignitaries and future NBA stars amongst us and made me appreciate what I was witnessing firsthand.

There was Steve Nash, whose Santa Clara squad upset defending champ UCLA on the first day.

There was Penny Hardaway, whose rabid Memphis State fans would fill the gym with confetti after the first tiger basket.

There were dynamic duos that led their teams to national championships, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill at Duke and Miles Simon and Mike Bibby at Arizona.

There was legendary coach Ray Meyer in the stands, looking on as his son, Joey, took over the reins of the DePaul team.

There was, even, part-time Valley Isle resident, Magic Johnson, just hangin' in the wooden bleachers, like the rest of us.

Even Sinbad made an appearance one year.

There were also some of the best games ever to be played: Kentucky/Arizona in 1993 that went to the buzzer and Gonzaga/Michigan State that saw Adam Morrison sink 43 points to lead his team to a triple overtime victory that many will never forget.

Spurred by Chaminade's incredible win over the nation's number one team, Virginia, in the greatest upset in college hoops history in 1982, Maui has grown from a tiny four-team tourney at Konawaena High School to a preeminent Thanksgiving basketball tradition televised worldwide on ESPN. The list of past champions - North Carolina, Kansas, and Syracuse, just to name a few - reads as a veritable who's-who index of college basketball powerhouses.

But what really makes this tournament special?

It's the place, of course.

Just listen to the players at pre-tournament media appearances and the coaches at post-game press conferences, and you're bound to hear the real reason they love bringing their teams to this beautiful island every year. It is the hospitality, it is the culture, and it is - for many - the once-in-a-lifetime experience to come to Hawai'i.

As I come to West Maui for another year to cover tournament host Chaminade and deliver another edition of PacWest Magazine, I find myself searching for the next local boy in the stands that may get the chance like me to be on the other side of the rope in a decade or so. I could never imagine then what impact those games from my youth would have an impact on me now.

The Maui is truly Nō Ka 'Oi, simply the best!