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Maui Invitational moving for 2020

Event held on Valley Isle every year since 1984 moved to North Carolina due to pandemic

A full house at the Lahaina Civic Center watches Duke and San Diego State play in the 2018 Maui Jim Maui Invitational. This year’s tournament will be played in Asheville, N.C., instead of the Valley Isle, with organizers citing the COVID-19 pandemic and NCAA schedule changes. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The 2020 Maui Jim Maui Invitational will be held in Asheville, N.C., the first time in the 37-year history of the event that it will not be held on Maui. This year’s event had been slated for Nov. 23-25 at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Event organizer KemperLesnik announced the change Friday.

The move from the Valley Isle — which has hosted the men’s college basketball tournament every year since 1984 — was expected. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced the start date for the college basketball season has been pushed back from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25.

“For the first time ever, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and schedule changes announced by the NCAA, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational is planning to relocate to Asheville, NC with games to be played at Harrah’s Cherokee Center — Asheville operating under the guidance of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for mass gatherings,” KemperLesnik said. “Tournament dates will be announced shortly. We look forward to bringing the Spirit of Aloha to the mainland.”

In an emailed statement to The Maui News, KemperLesnik said the tournament plans to return to the Valley Isle next year.

Dayton’s Jalen Crutcher drives to the basket against Ochai Agbaji of Kansas in last year’s Maui Invitational championship game won by the Jayhawks. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“While the decision to move this year’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational to Asheville, North Carolina did not come easily, we look forward to reuniting with the Maui community in 2021 at the Lahaina Civic Center,” KemperLesnik said.

This year’s Maui Invitational includes the University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels last competed in the tournament in 2016, leaving Lahaina with the Wayne Duke Championship Trophy.

The field also includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, Providence, Texas and UNLV. The event lost Stanford as a participant when the Pac-12 Conference said in August that no sports can take place amongst conference members until at least Jan. 1, 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, however that decision could be reversed as the conference reportedly moves closer to playing fall football.

“I realize that these are unprecedented times due to the ongoing pandemic, and I understand the very tough decision to relocate this year’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational,” Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama, chair of the Council’s Healthy Families and Communities Committee which oversees the Department of Parks and Recreation, said in a news release.

KemperLesnik is committed to highlighting Maui County during telecasts, the release said.

“KemperLesnik has long been a tremendous partner of the County of Maui, and I support the Maui Invitational as it looks forward to a successful 2020 event and return to Maui in 2021,” Hokama said.

The 2021 Maui Jim Maui Invitational field comprises Oregon, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Butler, Texas A&M, Houston, St. Mary’s and host Chaminade.

“The Maui Jim Maui Invitational notified us yesterday that it will be relocating to North Carolina for this year only,” Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We understand that the decision was made after consultation with local and national health officials, participating schools, the NCAA, ESPN and other key partners. Tournament officials have told us that they will greatly miss coming to our islands, but will do their best to recreate Maui’s beauty during the telecast and promotion of the event set in North Carolina for this year. We appreciate our continued partnership with tournament and look forward to welcoming them back in 2021.”

Victorino gave thanks to KemperLesnik executive vice president Tom Valdiserri and the tournament staff for notifying the county Thursday and “making it clear this move is temporary, only for 2020.”

“I appreciate that they have pledged to keep the Spirit of Maui alive in Asheville, North Carolina, and remind fans everywhere that this tournament’s true home is on Maui,” Victorino said. “We will miss the tournament, players, coaches and fans this year and welcome them back with open arms next year.”

Chaminade president Dr. Lynn Babington also released a statement.

“We’re disappointed but understand that the Maui Invitational cannot be played in Hawaii this year due to the pandemic and delayed start of the NCAA basketball season,” Babington said. “The health and safety of the players, officials and others involved take precedent. The Maui Invitational is such a special event for the Chaminade community, and we look forward to welcoming the tournament back to Hawaii in 2021.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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