Basketball all business for tourney



By Jason Grodsky

The Maui Invitational has become known around college basketball as the unofficial tip-off of the new season.

In its 24th year of existence, the tournament has become an early season evaluation of some of the top teams and talent around the country.

Since its start, 79 schools representing 20 conferences have competed in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, and of those teams competing, there have been 53 NCAA champions, 53 national runner-ups and the tournament fields have been composed of 206 Final Four teams.

This year’s field is no exception to the event’s remarkably talented history.

Duke, Marquette and Illinois were 2007 NCAA Tournament teams, and LSU is two years removed from its 2006 Final Four appearance. Along with tournament host Chaminade, Oklahoma State, Princeton and Arizona State will round out this year’s participating teams.

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Duke enters the tournament with a record three EA Sports Maui Invitational titles.

“There is an old saying in Maui that our tournament has adopted in the Hawaiian language called the Maui No Ka ‘Oi,” Tournament Chairman Dave Gavin said. “It means ‘Maui is the best,’ and I really, truly believe that once again this year.”

Nearly half a century ago the NCAA began the Hawaiian Exemption, allowing Hawaii-based colleges to compete with mainland schools despite their geographic isolation.

As a part of the Hawaiian Exemption, Chaminade upset Ralph Sampson’s top-ranked Virginia team on Dec. 23, 1982. The game has been referred to as the “greatest upset in college basketball history,” and led to the creation of the Maui Classic, now known as the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Since then, more than 4,000 out-of-state visitors, including boosters, players, officials, media representatives, sponsors and basketball fans have traveled to Maui for the tournament, boosting its local economy by more than $10 million annually. Last year’s tournament revenue brought the overall total to nearly $120 million for the local economy dating back to the tournament’s 1984 debut.

“We anticipate once again a really healthy crowd response,” Gavin said. “Our relationship, we at Kemper Sports with our host school, Chaminade, is a very important relationship. They have been wonderful partners over the years and we hope that we have matched their enthusiasm.”

For the players and coaches who compete in the tournament there is a great cultural and educational experience to be learned, and being a part of a great college basketball tradition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“We’re obviously very pleased to be part of the Maui Classic,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s a tournament – I think of all the exempt event tournaments it probably has the most prestige.”

For Weber, it will be his first time coaching in Hawaii and he hopes he and his players get as much out of the trip as possible.

“You get a great evaluation of where you’re at,” Weber said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re coming to Hawaii and then we’re going to have to beat people in the NCAA Tournament on these neutral courts and so it’s a valuable experience. You can, you hope you grow up from it. It’ll be an interesting trip for us and hopefully a rewarding one.”