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Odom: Maui Invite organizers focused on return to Valley Isle

Tournament chairman excited about ‘balanced’ field for November event

A full house at the Lahaina Civic Center watches Duke and San Diego State play in a Maui Jim Maui Invitational first-round game on Nov. 19, 2018. This year’s tournament is scheduled for Nov. 22-24. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER file photo

Dave Odom has a clear message for anyone who wonders where the Maui Jim Maui Invitational belongs.

“We feel like this tournament belongs to Maui, as an island, Kahului, Lahaina, the state of Hawaii, I mean, this tournament belongs to them, to all encompassing,” Odom, the tournament chairman, said via phone on Monday. “We always want to be in touch with the different constituents and we ask them: ‘How can we improve? What’s important?’ Invariably the answer comes back: ‘Keep doing things for our people here on the island.’ “

After a year away from Maui due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is set to return to the Lahaina Civic Center Nov. 22-24. The 2020 event was held in Asheville, N.C., but Odom says plans are full steam ahead for the tournament to be here in 112 days.

Odom pointed to clinics that are run by Chaminade University players and coaches for young local players, halftime entertainment put on by local performers for each of the games, and the use of Lahainaluna High School’s gym as the practice court for the event as important pieces to the local connection.

“It’s important that this tournament remains the tournament of Hawaii, of Maui, of Kahului, of Lahaina,” Odom said. “It’s not our tournament, it’s ours to give to them and make sure that they’re very much a part of what’s going on.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino addressed the question of where the status of the event stands at his news conference on Friday in the wake of new surges in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

“I believe the Maui Invitational will be back this year — and again we are working hard with them,” Victorino said. “It’s the last week of November, so they’re coming back and we’re looking forward to having them back.”

Travel and ticket packages for boosters are currently being sold on the event’s website.

“We’ll see what our positivity rates and where the Delta variant and other challenges that we may face are at that point, but we will do everything possible to follow the rules that are set at that time and protect them, the visitors, as well as not only the residents, as they attend this wonderful event,” Victorino said.

The event unveiled its bracket last week, and Odom is excited about what he calls one of the most balanced events he has ever put together here. The openers on Monday, Nov. 22, are: Texas A&M vs. Wisconsin at 9 a.m., Butler vs. Houston at 11:30 a.m., Chaminade vs. Oregon at 4 p.m., and St. Mary’s vs. Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m.

“The thing that stands out to me, just jumps off the page is we’ve got maybe our most balanced tournament in years,” Odom said. “Usually you could look at it with a pick in the upper bracket or lower or both, a team that is, at least on paper, destined to be in the Final Four or a really strong team, one that’s going to win their conference and advance deep into the NCAA.

“This year, I think we’ve got a number of teams like that, more than we normally have.”

Odom drew out a dream scenario for the semifinals on Nov. 23.

“When you look at it right now, you’ve got to think that Oregon is going to be extremely good in that lower bracket. Houston, they went to the Final Four last year, they’re in the lower bracket, but then you’ve got Wisconsin and you’ve got Notre Dame,” Odom said. “So they’re four teams that are capable of going deep into the NCAA Tournament once it begins, but that’s not to dismiss Butler or St. Mary’s.

“St. Mary’s is an interesting team — they’ve called me three or four years in a row and asked me to get them into the tournament. They said, ‘I guarantee we’ll have the most fans there’ because Maui is halfway from (California) to Australia and half of their roster is Australian, so they’re going to have a lot of people coming to see them from Australia.”

Odom said it is hard to single out a clear favorite in this field.

“If you asked me to reshuffle the tournament brackets today, I think I could do that and it would still be balanced,” Odom said. “What I’ve tried to do is get two teams in the upper bracket and two teams in the lower bracket that have had success in our tournament and also in the NCAA Tournament, and I think we were able to do that.”

Odom is aware that the event’s return to Maui is important because here is where its reputation as the premier early-season tournament was born and has grown.

“After a year away from Maui it’s kind of like being away from your mate for so long, as much as a year, year and a half, and you’re finally going to get back with he or she,” Odom said. “It’s just such a great feeling to know that in two, maybe three months, whatever it is, we’ll be making that trip to Maui once again. And we just can’t wait to see our old friends who I know are excited about having us. … It’s just an exciting thing, it really is.”

Odom knows that with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic that last-minute adjustments may have to be made. He said his team at tournament organizer KemperLesnik is ready to roll with the punches.

“Last year we had a really good tournament, the thing was decided on the last shot, the way Maui games and the Maui championship should be decided, but yet we did miss Maui,” Odom said. “And, I think, I know they did, Maui missed us. So, we are going to do everything we can to get back and have a first-rate tournament. I know we will.”

When asked if there are contingency plans in place, Odom was direct.

“We are totally committed to coming to Maui and running the tournament in Maui — totally committed to that,” he said. “Now, life sometimes throws you curveballs that you can’t hit. All I can tell you is last year we had to pull the plug on going to Maui and yet our team did a fabulous job of placing our tournament in Asheville.

“We did that with no experience in doing it. So, if life were to throw that curveball at us again, the one thing we do have is experience in putting it in another location. … We’re not spending a lot of time on that and the reason is because we know what to do. We’re spending all of our time on Maui.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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