Story by Catharine Lo
On Thanksgiving Eve Eric Bovaird would always be in the same place: on the couch watching the final matchup of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational, which liked to tease him with cutaway scenes of white sand beaches and surfers while snow fell outside his Pennsylvania home. For basketball fans the pre-season NCAA tournament in Hawai‘i has become as much of a Thanksgiving Eve tradition as touchdowns on Turkey Day.
Now Bovaird is one of those guys at the beach—but even more important, he’s the guy in the aloha shirt calling plays in the Lahaina Civic Center as the Division II Chaminade Silverswords take on some of the best teams in college basketball. The head coach of Honolulu-based Chaminade University, Bovaird says strangers stop him whenever he’s wearing a Chaminade shirt and exclaim, “Maui Invitational!”
The tournament was established in the aftermath of one of the greatest upsets in college basketball: Little-known Chaminade defeated top-ranked Virginia in December 1982. Cavaliers head coach Terry Holland congratulated Chaminade athletic director Mike Vasconcellos and suggested an annual tournament. The first Maui Invitational was held two years later (with Chaminade losing to Providence in the final). Since then Chaminade has hosted ninety-nine NCAA Division I teams — and their fans—from forty states. “It really gives you the bigtournament feel,” says Steve Skinner, CEO of event organizer Kemper Lesnik. “Jam-packed, fans right on top of the court, wall to wall, to the rafters.” Over the past thirty years of the tournament, eight participating teams have gone on to win the national championship in the same season, eighteen have gone on to make the Final Four and thirty-eight have reached the Sweet Sixteen.
For most Hawai‘i residents the Maui Invitational is as close to March Madness as they’ll ever get. For the Silverswords players it’s more than a little unnerving when the guys from the Dukes and Carolinas of the college b-ball world swagger onto the court. “I just try to settle them down and make them believe they can play with these guys,” says Bovaird. “They might be a little bit bigger. They might be a little bit stronger. But the guys at the Division II level are just as skilled.”
Chaminade hosts Arkansas, Baylor, California, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Syracuse at the 2013 EA SPORTS Maui Invitational, November 25-27. Find more information at mauiinvitational.com.