Maui still scores points

This year’s coaches say tournament remains best in the game

Roy Williams coaches North Carolina to a victory over Oklahoma State on Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational semifinal round. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Roy Williams coaches North Carolina to a victory over Oklahoma State on Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational semifinal round. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

LAHAINA — The Maui Jim Maui Invitational is 33 years old, in its prime and poised to stay there.

The event had a modest beginning as a four-team competition at War Memorial Gym in Wailuku,

but is now college basketball’s pre-eminent early-season tournament. This year’s field had three teams ranked by The Associated Press, and No. 4 North Carolina won the title for a fourth time Wednesday, beating No. 16 Wisconsin 71-56.

While similar events like it have sprung up in locations ranging from New York City to the Bahamas, coaches who were at the Lahaina Civic Center this week said Maui still stands at the front of the line.

“This is the greatest tournament,” said Dana Altman, who led No. 13 Oregon to a fifth-place finish. “This is the best tournament I’ve ever been in, and I’m sure some other promoters won’t like me saying that, but it is. It’s a great location, great environment. The teams this year, unbelievable. … The opportunities — even in the losers’ bracket, you’re playing Tennessee. The hospitality is unbelievable. Maui Jim and their sponsorship of it, the people at the hotels, people here at the gym, I’m not sure we’ve ever been treated better. Great tournament. We’d sure love to come back sometime.”

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II puts up a shot during Wednesday’s win over Wisconsin in the final. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II puts up a shot during Wednesday’s win over Wisconsin in the final. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The powerhouse field also stood out to Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood.

“This is the premier event,” he said. “And for one reason. We open with UConn. We get North Carolina. And now we get Georgetown,” Underwood said Wednesday. “And there’s no other event, and I’ll argue with anybody, there’s no event out there that puts eight really good teams in an event. Most of them are two or three or four and you get a couple of cupcakes.”

Rick Barnes, the only coach to have been in the event with three schools — Providence, Texas and this year Tennessee — has a unique perspective.

“Well, it’s great. You look around, and everything about this has become a big-time event,” Barnes said during a post-game news conference. “I can remember being here 20-some years ago. This wasn’t here, what we’re doing now. We’d stand out here in the hallway. … I could feel the players were excited because they’ve grown up watching this, and now they can say they’ve been a part of it.

“I’m not sure there’s a better preseason tournament. … Everything, the infrastructure is as good as you see in the NCAA tournament.”

‘There’s no event out there that puts eight really good teams in an event. Most of them are two or three or four and you get a couple of cupcakes.’ – Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood: The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

‘There’s no event out there that puts eight really good teams in an event. Most of them are two or three or four and you get a couple of cupcakes.’ – Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood: The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Some changes are in the works — most significantly having tournament host Cha-minade in the event only in odd-numbered years, a move announced last month. In even years, eight Division I teams will be headed to Maui, and the Silverswords will play one of them on the Mainland.

“On one hand it’s going to be an incredibly unique experience — in Division II basketball we don’t get the opportunity to play in huge arenas with thousands and thousands of fans,” said Chaminade coach Eric Bovaird. “We might have the chance to play at North Carolina or at Duke or UCLA, so that’s going to be not only exciting for the players, but exciting for me, too, because I haven’t been in most of those arenas.

“But, you know, not playing over here in those years, it will be a little bit sad because I think this is the greatest tournament on Earth. So, I will be a little bit envious when we’re not here.”

The fields for 2017 and 2018 have been announced, and tournament chairman Dave Odom said the 2019 teams are nearly set, with “about five teams committed for 2020.”

“I can tell the people on Maui that there’s going to be no let-up in terms of the quality of teams that are coming in. … Good, quality teams that are assured to keep this event at the top of the ladder for a long, long time,” Odom said.

Odom did cite areas that he wants to improve for next year, noting that on the final two days of the event, the last two games of the day each had their tipoff times moved back by 15 minutes.

“We need to get with ESPN and make sure that we’re a little better coordinated on some of the start times,” Odom said. “Some things are out of our control. Some things I think we overdid in terms of start times.

“Some of the seating, I want to make sure we take care of our NBA scouts a little bit better — we had 26 (NBA) teams show up here and that’s a good thing, but we need to make sure they can see and write and report. … We’ve got a great partner in Maui Jim, local, that’s a great relationship.”

Only one of this year’s 12 games was on ESPN, while nine were on ESPN2 and two were on ESPNU.

“That’s something that we would want to have a conversation with ESPN about,” Odom said. “ESPN is really into NBA basketball right now and it’s kind of a star-studded cast that they are catering to — LeBron (James), Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and all those guys. They want to make sure that they get those guys in front of the American public while they can, but we feel like we’ve got an equally good product and we want to make sure people see ours as well.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

Maui Invitational facts and figures

FUTURE FIELDS

2017–Chaminade, Michigan, California, LSU, Marquette, Notre Dame, VCU, Wichita St.

2018–Duke, Arizona, Gonzaga, Xavier, San Diego St., Iowa St., Auburn, Illinois.

CHAMPIONS’ MARGIN OF VICTORY

North Carolina, 2016    30.0

North Carolina, 2008    27.3

Kansas,               2015    25.7

Illinois,               2012    23.3

POINTS, SINGLE TOURNAMENT

George Gilmore, Chaminade, 1991    93

Kemba Walker, Connecticut,   2010    90

Adam Morrison, Gonzaga,      2005    86

Jalen Adams, Connecticut,     2016     86

WINS (Maui games only)

W    L    Pct

North Carolina    18    3    .857

Duke                      15    0    1.000

Arizona                 12    6    .667

Kansas                  12    6    .667

Michigan              10    4    .714

Kentucky              10    5    .667

Vanderbilt           10    5    .667

Indiana                10    8    .556

 

MULTIPLE CHAMPIONSHIPS

5–Duke (1992, 1997, 2001, 2007, 2011).

4–North Carolina (1999, 2004, 2008, 2016).

3–Syracuse (1990, 1998, 2013).

2–Arizona (2000, 2014); Connecticut (2005, 2010); Kansas (1996, 2015); Michigan (1985, 1988).

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