Maui Invitational basketball tournament to be held on Oahu

Sep. 16—One key issue was if the Lahaina Civic Center would be available.

The Maui Invitational did not have to be moved off-island because of the devastating Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire, a Valley Isle business leader said Friday after it was announced the Nov. 20-22 college basketball tournament will be played on Oahu this year.

"I'm very disappointed. We felt it was completely possible and we worked hard to find solutions to challenges raised, " Maui Chamber of Commerce president Pamela Tumpap said in a phone interview. "Some of the messaging was off the mark and there seemed to be a disconnect."

One key issue was if the Lahaina Civic Center would be available.

"Our first and foremost priority was to keep the tournament on Maui if possible, " said Nelson Taylor, vice president for sports and events at KemperSports Live, in an interview Friday at the end of a five-day planning visit here. "But the Lahaina Civic is still a critical hub (for recovery efforts )."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Recovery Center is based at the Civic Center.

"FEMA is known for deploying and re-deploying very quickly, " Tumpap said. "They would understand how important the event is to the island."

KemperSports, which owns the event, promises it will return to Lahaina in 2024.

"One-hundred percent. There was never a doubt about (returning to Maui ), " Taylor said.

It will be played at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii campus in Manoa this year. The tournament annually showcases some of the nation's best college basketball teams.

"We felt it was our obligation to help out with that tournament and help them make another pivot after everything that has happened on Maui, " UH athletic director Craig Angelos said.

The Sheriff Center has a capacity of 10, 300. The Lahaina Civic Center holds 2, 400, and is always full for the tournament.

The Maui facility was spared in last month's wildfires that killed at least 97 people and destroyed more than 2, 200 buildings in historic Lahaina.

The tournament has been reported to add $16 million annually to Maui's economy.

Tumpap said she rallied the Maui and Lahaina business communities, but a decision had already been made.

"Our group never got a seat at the table, " Tumpap said. "We know a lot of it is up to the promoter, and we're grateful they're continuing to have it in Hawaii. We're promised it will come back next year better than ever. We're grateful for that as well but felt more could have been done to have it in Lahaina (this year ). We had solutions to do it very respectfully, bringing our community hope, showcasing our resiliency, and sharing the aloha spirit with the teams, boosters and world who love and cherish Maui."

KemperSports "is focused on being super respectful and how we can help, " Taylor said. He mentioned the Hoops for 'Ohana online auction of Maui Invitational memorabilia and items like travel packages, benefiting the Maui Strong Fund. The auction remains open through Nov. 22.

This year's tournament marks its 40th anniversary, with a lineup of teams that might be the best in its history. It includes five that are in the top 10 of ESPN's early preseason poll : No. 1 Kansas, No. 3 Purdue, No. 7 Gonzaga, No. 8 Tennessee and No. 10 Marquette. Perennial powerhouses Syracuse and UCLA and host Chaminade round out the field.

The tournament was played in Asheville, N.C., in 2020, and Las Vegas in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns in Hawaii.

A UH men's basketball game hosting Northern Arizona is scheduled for Nov. 21. Because of the tournament, it will be the fifth game of that day at the arena, and will start later than usual. Women's volleyball and basketball games are scheduled for late in the week before the tournament, and a women's basketball tournament is slated for the Friday and Sunday after.

"It's 12 games over three days, and (UH ) has been very accommodating, " Taylor said.

Many of the Maui Invitational games will be played during daytime hours while classes are in session at the Manoa campus. All games are expected to be well attended, since the field includes so many high-profile programs with strong followings.

"A lot of juggling had to be done. Two key areas were scheduling of the building and the staffing, and of course parking is a big discussion, " Angelos said. "There are lots of other ancillary things like ticketing, but we've got two months to go before the games."

All previously bought tickets will be honored for similar seats in the arena, according to a news release Friday.

Additional tickets will go on sale in early October at Fans who have previously purchased tournament travel packages will be offered comparable travel packages with beach hotels in Honolulu, organizers said.

"We have been very fortunate to have the continued support of the seven programs from the mainland, and the host, Chaminade, " Taylor said.

"The reason we're all here is a tiny NAIA school decided it needed to beat No. 1 and shock the world, " he added, referencing Chaminade's monumental 1982 upset of top-ranked Virginia that spawned the tournament.