Hawaiian Homecoming Faces Lawsuit At Maui Invitational: ‘The culture there, I can’t wait to experience it with my teammates’

Ohio State will swim with sharks in next week’s Maui Invitational, which will see five ranked participants compete in an eight-team tournament. If Justice Sueing had its way, the program would approach this concept in a more literal sense.

The Buckeyes have an integrated tour guide in Sueing, an Oahu native, on their list when they landed in Hawaii Friday night. But Sueing’s initial sightseeing recommendations were perhaps a little too ambitious for his humble Ohio State teammates.

“I was trying to see if they wanted to do any type of diving, some shark diving. But I don’t think my teammates were ready for that,” Sueing said with a laugh during an exclusive interview Eleven warriors. “So I think we’re going to stay in the country.”

While all but two members of the team (Sueing and Zed Key) will be making their first trip to the Aloha State, perhaps no one will be as excited as Sueing, who lived in Hawaii until his sophomore year and is still going Visit family two or three times a year. Sueing’s hometown of Honolulu is about a 45-minute flight from the tournament venue and a few islands from Maui, but he said it “embodies the same kind of culture and atmosphere.”

For Sueing, a return trip home will allow some members of his family to see him play basketball live for Ohio State for the first time. It’s also a chance for the sixth-year forward to share his culture with coaches and team-mates. After a poor night on his last outing, just his third game back after a year-long injury layoff, a Hawaiian backdrop might be the best possible place for Sueing to settle down and shake off some rust.

“The culture there, I can’t wait to experience it with my teammates and show them how I grew up.”– Trials in Hawaii

There is no doubt that the young Buckeye list will lean even more towards Sueing now that the level of competition is increasing significantly over the course of five days.

“I think it’s just exciting because not many people get to play in this invitational tournament. That alone is a blessing, and then the fact that I’m from there, I’m from this state,” Sueing said. “The culture there, I can’t wait to experience it with my teammates and show them how I grew up, with the people there, the food and just the nature. That’s a big part of why I’m looking forward to, and on top of that just playing the game I love in front of my family and friends. I’m just excited.”

Ohio State will play three matchups against a field that includes No. 9 Arkansas, No. 10 Creighton, No. 14 Arizona, No. 17 San Diego State — which the Buckeyes will play Monday — and No. 23 Texas Tech as well unranked Lousiville and Cincinnati.

This list of potential opponents stands in stark contrast to the Buckeyes’ first three opponents this season. Mid-major programs Robert Morris, Charleston Southern, and Eastern Illinois hold a combined 3-7 record early in the season, and Ohio State defeated them all by at least 22 points.

As pleasant as Hawaii is, the Buckeyes might find their opponent a little less on the court earlier in the week.

“From now on, our schedule is pretty intense. We’ve got this tournament, we’ve got Duke, we’ve got some good games outside of the conference before we go to New York. We’re in depth from here,” Sueing said. “I’m really excited to go out with the guys and be really challenged from the start. And overcoming those hurdles and seeing how far we’ve grown and learning what it takes to keep growing to have a successful season. But yes, I am looking forward to playing against these good teams here in this invitational tournament.”

Before Monday, Ohio State has the weekend to enjoy the sights and sounds of Maui, and the Buckeyes have an experienced escort to help show them around. Shark diving may not have worked out, but Sueing has other activities in mind, especially those that are culinary-oriented.

“We’ll have a bit of time to enjoy the island, hang out, get a little bit closer and spend that time off the court. I’ll play a bit of a tour guide, especially when eating,” Sueing said. “I’m not that familiar with Maui, I’ve been there a few times, but I’m more familiar with it back home in Oahu.

“There’s this food that I think everyone on the team will enjoy. Or at least I have a feeling they wouldn’t mind if they tried. It’s called Katsu Musubi. It’s almost like fried chicken and then at the bottom there’s rice wrapped in seaweed. I have a feeling that everyone on the team would really enjoy it, even though it might look a little intimidating because they might not have seen it much just because they grew up where they are from. There’s that, and I think the food over there, you really can’t go wrong with that. There are so many choices of dessert. Ube is something I really want to have when I land there.”

Some horse chestnuts may be intimidated by the local food, but no one will moan about the weather. Least Sueing, who said it’s what he misses most about living in Hawaii, especially after a week of freezing temperatures and snow in Ohio.

“I was just talking to Ice (Likekele) about it, I was talking about how the weather is just so different there than anywhere else. That’s probably the one thing I miss the most about it,” Sueing said. “Especially now that we’re starting this week, it’s going to be really cold here in Columbus. So I’m like man I can’t wait to get some sunshine, lay a little on that beach. It’s going to be great, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Besides sunbathing, Sueing will also spend time with his family, which he usually visits no more than a few times a year. Sueing said his entire family still lives in Hawaii and he expects almost the entire group to attend his tournament games.

“Every game is an opportunity for me to get through that rust…Doing it in Hawaii would be a great place to start.”– court proceedings

“I think I have some friends coming. I believe they are still trying to get there. But my whole family, as I have eight to ten family members, will be there to support me through this tournament,” Sueing said. “So it’s going to be great. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many family members come to a game, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

Sueing’s mother will have her first chance to see her son play basketball in a Buckeye uniform up close. Several members of Sueing’s family watched him play while he spent his first two years of college at Cal, but he has not played competitively in Hawaii since 10th grade. That year, Sueing joined Mater Dei in Santa Ana, California, where he played his final two years of high school basketball.

Sueing won’t actually have time to travel back to Oahu during the tournament, but it sounds like that won’t stop him from seeing plenty of familiar faces before, during and after the Maui games.

In terms of the kind of players they’ll be watching, that could go a long way towards how much success Ohio State has next week.

Sueing looked like the best player on the floor in the Buckeyes’ Nov. 7 season opener, scoring 20 points in 8-for-14 shooting to lead the team. In that competition, Sueing didn’t seem to miss a beat, despite last appearing for the Buckeyes in November 2021. The 6-foot-7 wing made a decent showing in Ohio State’s second matchup but showed signs of rust on Wednesday, hitting just two of his 10 shots to finish with six points and five turnovers.

But all that time on the touchline has taught Sueing to appreciate the little things of the game, and he’ll be able to absorb even more when the ball is tipped during a tournament being played in his home state.

“Every game is an opportunity for me to get through this rust and continue to meet the demands I have to meet for this team so we can win games. Doing it in Hawaii would be a great place to start and continue to build on the goals I want to achieve,” Sueing said. “And that goes for both me and the team. We have a lot to do.”

The Buckeyes, one of three unranked teams in next week’s tournament, won’t settle for simply earning a participation trophy during a trip to the tropics. As happy as Sueing is about his homecoming in Hawaii, he’s hoping to lead Ohio State to three wins in as many days before the team returns to the mainland.

“I think we are there to win in every situation. We’re trying to remain undefeated, just like every other team going to the invitational,” Sueing said. “It’s a competitive team roster so it’s going to be really good games. High intensity, high competition. It’s something we’re looking for. Coach (Holtmann), he loves that. He loves to be challenged and every single man on this team wants to be challenged too.

“We’re going into this thing trying to win every single game.”