Chaminade men’s basketball coach Eric Bovaird knows the most identifying characteristic about his program.
It’s been 41 years since Chaminade, an NAIA school at the time, defeated top-ranked Virginia at the Honolulu International Center in 1982. It is still viewed as the greatest upset in college basketball history.
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The upset led to the birth of the Maui Classic, which has turned into the Maui Invitational, considered the gold standard of early-season college basketball tournaments. Chaminade used to be an annual member of the Maui Invitational field, but starting in 2017, it only played in the tournament every other year. The mystique of playing in the tournament is still enough for Bovaird to pull in players to join the program.
“This tournament was founded on the Virginia win back in 1982. It’s something that we still talk about probably every other day in one way or another,” Bovaird said on Sunday. “It is a big reason why they come to Chaminade: To have a chance to play in the best tournament, to play on ESPN, the chance to play against the best competition in the United States at the college level. It’s gonna be a great week.”
The Silverswords, who compete in the NCAA Division II Pacific West Conference, always get their toughest competition in November, where they’ll either play in the Maui Invitational or play three road games against teams competing in it.
Despite their status in the tournament, the Silverswords have not played on Maui since 2019. In 2021, the tournament was moved to Las Vegas due to local restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, the tournament will take place at the University of Hawaii’s SimpliFi Arena after devastating wildfires in Maui turned the Lahaina Civic Center, the regular venue of the tournament, into a temporary relief hub.
Five teams in the 2023 Maui Invitational field are featured in the latest AP Top 25 poll, with No. 11 Gonzaga the lowest of the ranked teams. That type of firepower has many calling this year’s field the strongest of all time.
“It’s incredible. This is an event we cherish and we’re very, very proud of. The history of the Maui Invitational, playing in different places and different formats, it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Bovaird said. “We got perhaps the best field this week, so we’re excited about the island of Oahu getting a chance to see this tournament. We wish we could be in Maui, but the cards weren’t playing that way this year, but we’re excited about having it on Oahu.”
The Silverswords are currently 1-2 and feature former University of Hawaii guards and Oahu natives Kameron Ng and Jessiya Villa.
Syracuse and No. 7 Tennessee kick off the competition on Monday at 9:30 a.m. In the third game of the day, Chaminade opens against Kansas, the top-ranked team in the country. A chance to repeat the 1982’s near impossible awaits the Silverswords, but Bovaird understands it’s a long shot.
“Guys have been looking forward to it since they signed to come to Chaminade. We want to play against the best. We want to coach against the best,” Bovaird said. “You want to see where you stack up, where you measure up against teams and Kansas will be the ultimate test for us. They’re the No. 1 team in the country and after watching them, deservedly so.”
Kansas coach Bill Self says his team won’t underestimate the Silverswords, who are playing less than a mile away from their own campus.
“We’ll definitely address that with our players, there’s no doubt about that. (Sunday’s) practice will totally be committed to preparation for Chaminade,” Self said. “Nervous because they’re playing with house money, nothing to lose. We gotta play loose, too. You gotta learn to play in games like this. So, this will be good for our guys.”
Bovaird and the Silverswords hope to return to Maui one day, but come Monday, they’ll cherish what will perhaps be their only chance to play on one of college basketball’s biggest stages on their home island.
“Ever since the fires happened, our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to the people in Maui, from the day it happened,” Bovaird said. “Something we talk about all the time. We strategize with ways to make a difference.
“Our guys, their families and friends are going to be looking forward to having the tournament here. We are sad we aren’t in Maui but the next best place is to have it on Oahu. The amount of people, the exposure we’re gonna get, the opportunities we’re gonna get for people that have never seen the tournament before … There’s a lot of excited people, and we’re excited, too.”