Lesnik makes Chaminade Wall of Fame

Steven Lesnik and Chaminade University began their partnership by teaming up to operate the EA Sports Maui Invitational 24 years ago.

Today, Chaminade will honor this relationship by inducting Lesnik into the Silversword Wall of Fame.

“It’s quite an honor,” Lesnik said. “I think it’s quite an honor to be inducted into any hall of fame but this is a pretty prestigious university, so you feel quite honored to be recognized by a university of this stature.”

Lesnik is the founder of Illinois-based marketing firm KemperLesnik, which has been running the Maui Invitational alongside Chaminade since 1990.

Kent Keither, then the president of Chaminade, sought out the partnership with Lesnik with the hopes of taking the tournament to new heights.

“I saw a lot of potential,” Lesnik recalled.

“We agreed to join forces and from the very beginning we established the goal of being the greatest collegiate basketball tournament outside of the Final Four and I think over a quarter of a century we’ve accomplished that goal.”

The Maui Invitational is indeed considered by many to be the premier early-season college basketball tournament in the country, consistently drawing ranked teams. The 2013 edition of the tournament, won by Syracuse, marked the 30th year of the event.

For Lesnik, the benefits go beyond being a part of an elite event.

“Maui is my favorite place in the world,” he said. “One of the great things about this award is that I get to come to Maui another time.”

Other early-season collegiate tournaments provide stiff competition for the Maui Invitational. One of the most impressive is a relative newcomer, the Battle4Atlantis in the Bahamas. The event will be in its fourth year in 2014, with a field comprising North Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown, Florida, Wisconsin, Butler, Oklahoma and Alabama-Birmingham.

This year’s Maui field will bring Arizona, Brigham Young, Kansas State, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Purdue and San Diego State to the Lahaina Civic Center, along with Chaminade.

“There is more competition than ever,” Lesnik said. “Everyone is looking to knock you off your perch.”

He noted, though: “Nobody else has Maui. The Bahamas is not Maui. Maui is the number one destination in the world, in my opinion.”

To maintain the tournament’s status, Lesnik said, “We have to make sure that we provide the schools, the players, the fans, the boosters and community with the best possible experience. We’re determined to remain on top.”

Lesnik said he also hopes to expand the tournament on an international level.

“We are talking about trying to make a greater impact in Japan and certain European countries with getting the event more attention, more viewership,” he said.

A graduate of Brown, Lesnik has served on the Illinois Math and Science Academy and was also appointed by the state’s governor to be chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“Maui is for me a combination of my two greatest interests and passions. One is sports and the other is education,” Lesnik said.

He said the Maui Invitational offers a particular benefit to the host school.

“Elevating Chaminade’s visibility I think has helped them solidify themselves, attract talent both at the faculty level and student level, and put them on sounder footing,” he said.

“That’s why I think this has been such a great experience.”