At 7:20 on Christmas morning, there were no presents to unwrap.
Instead, the Davidson and Akron basketball teams stood respectfully on court at the Stan Sheriff Center, listening to both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Hawaii Ponoi,” the former national anthem of the Kingdom of Hawaii and now the official song of the 50th state.
The seventh-place game in the Diamond Head Classic tipped off at 7:30 a.m. Having lost their first two tournament games, Davidson and Akron were relegated to the sunrise start, but the Wildcats performed better as early risers, knocking off the Zips 91-78 behind 30 points from freshman Kellan Grady.
“Waking up at 5:30 on Christmas Day and not looking for Santa Claus but looking for our sneakers,” quipped Davidson coach Bob McKillop. “We might start scheduling our games at 7:30 from now on, maybe before class.”
It was a novel experience for all the players.
“I think in high school, maybe in an AAU tournament, we had one at 7:30,” said team captain Rusty Reigel. “Maybe like we were a time zone over from the East Coast—time zone over, 8:30 game, and it felt like this, but never at 7:30.”
The trip to Hawaii, however, was about far more than basketball. On Christmas Eve, with no games scheduled, the team took part in an afternoon trip to Pearl Harbor arranged by retired naval officer Jane Campbell, who was recently elected as a commissioner for the Town of Davidson.
The itinerary included a visit to the Arizona Memorial, and it gave the players a new perspective on one of the most far-reaching events in United States history.
“That trip to Pearl Harbor was amazing,” Reigel said. “It was really special. It was really eye-opening, because it was something the guys had no idea. ...Obviously, you know about the event. You hear about it and learn about it in school a little bit.
“But to go and see the video on it and hear the stories that they tell while you’re there is a really special experience. ...I think it’s good for all of us.”
To McKillop, the invitation to the eight-team tournament, won by Southern California later on Christmas Day, was far more than a mere team-building exercise—though that was certainly an important purpose.
“This experience, trip, this tournament is chock full of memories our guys will treasure for years to come,” McKillop said. “The fact that we got better as a basketball team, we got closer as a basketball team was a big part of it.
“The Pearl Harbor experience was moving, it was emotional, was a great glimpse into history. And it kind of shows the Davidson spirit that Jane Campbell, a retired naval officer, was able to arrange it and give us such a bird’s-eye view on Sunday afternoon, Christmas Eve... That kind of collaboration is so significant, because it’s emblematic of Davidson.”
And, of course, there was also the lure of Waikiki Beach, perhaps the best-known point of interest in Honolulu.
“Coming to Hawaii, obviously, it’s just awesome,” said Reigel, whose brother Will and father Ernie Reigel both played basketball for the Wildcats. “It’s been amazing. Back home it’s cold out, it’s maybe a little snowy, a little icy. You wake up here and it’s 75 and sunny. You can’t be unhappy when it’s like that.
“We got to spend some time on the beach. Coach gave a couple of us a little heat for getting a little sunburn one day.”
And after the early game on Christmas Day, the beach beckoned once again—with no admonition against sunburn. The Wildcats don’t play again until they open their Atlantic 10 Conference schedule at what is sure to be a much colder Richmond on Dec. 30.