You’re the Chaminade University Silverswords and you’re hosting guests for Thanksgiving week. If the invitation list seems a little daunting, well, anyone would understand.
No. 1 Kansas is coming. So is No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, No. 7 Tennessee and No. 11 Gonzaga. So is UCLA with its aura and Syracuse with its new coach. They’lI all be arriving for the Maui Invitational — played this year in Honolulu because of the recovery from wildfires on Maui — and it might be one of the most glittering in-season tournament fields ever assembled. Should be quite the compelling drama, which college basketball can surely use, trying to drum up some attention here in the early weeks of plentiful blowouts.
“We definitely know how to finish the season in basketball and we’re working on starting the season better,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said about these made-for-TV events. Plus, there’ll be plenty of camera shots of the beaches and Diamond Head.
But think about it if you’re Chaminade.
Five of the top 11 ranked teams in the nation are in the bracket. And Division II you.
Seven teams with 263 combined appearances in the NCAA tournament, 48 trips to the Final Four, 17 national championships, a spotless combined record so far this season of 20-0, by an average victory margin of 24.3 points. And you.
Kansas and its 57.7 field goal percentage and 81 assists in three games. Purdue and its 31.7 average winning margin, having trailed 22 seconds all season. Gonzaga and its 104.5 points a game. UCLA, allowing only 51 points a game and starting 3-0 despite making only seven 3-pointers so far. Tennessee and a new 20-point-a-game transfer to go with its renowned defense. Marquette with none of its top four scorers shooting under 52 percent. Syracuse just off rallying from 24 points down in the second half to beat Colgate with a desperate press that forced 14 turnovers in the second half and led to the second largest comeback for a member team in ACC history.
Kansas has beaten Kentucky, Marquette went into Illinois and won and is now ranked higher than it has been in 46 years. Purdue put down Xavier, its 27th consecutive regular season win over a non-conference opponent. You’re 1-2, the one victory coming over the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks.
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It starts Monday in Oahu. First up? Mighty Kansas, the name at the top of the polls. Then either UCLA or Marquette. Then one of the other bruisers. What must you be thinking in the Chaminade camp? Abandon all hope, ye who enter?
“It’s going to be the hardest test in our life playing against them but we still relish the opportunities,” coach Eric Bovaird said over the phone this week. Even if it’s against Kansas. “We know we would need some divine intervention in order to beat a team like that. But we just cherish the moment of getting that opportunity."
“It’s part of the reason my players come to Chaminade. None of my guys were recruited by the high-major teams. Neither was I. But all of us want that opportunity to test ourselves and see what we look like against them.”
Besides, when else are the national TV cameras at Chaminade games? So this annual roll of the dice is close to your heart.
“It means everything,” Bovaird said. “Everybody worldwide knows the Maui Invitational and everybody associates that with Chaminade. It’s what puts our name and our brand out there globally. It’s something we think about, we plan for. It’s like Christmas every year for us.”
But Christmas can sometimes not be pretty. You’re Chaminade and your last appearance was 2021 and the losses came by 24, 26 and 33 points to Oregon, Notre Dame and Butler. But you had a great experience and that’s what mattered. Your all-time record in the event is 8-95, but you know what that means, don’t you?
Exactly. Eight times, you’ve taken down a giant.
“It’s the most amazing feeling whenever you get a win, to know the level of resources amongst those programs is so radically different and to know that you were able to knock off one of those teams. We talk about it all the time,” Bovaird said.
The last victory was over California in 2017. Villanova is on the list. So is Oklahoma. You’re Chaminade and when people ask you how you mark those wins, you tell them to drop by Bovaird’s office and look at all the surfboards.
Surfboards? No, the coach is not working for the day he goes out to try the Banzai Pipeline. Let him explain.
“I have a thing every time we win I have to buy one of the surfboards. Those surfboards are about $1,200. My son comes in all the time and looks at a them and asks, who did we beat this year?”
Not a cheap tradition. But hey, if Chaminade is ahead of one of these teams next week when time runs out, Bovaird won’t be thinking about the big hit coming on his credit card. “No problem shelling out the money if we pull off another victory,” he said.
The spotlight means even more this year, given the anguish that the people of Maui went through with the deadly summer wildfires.
“The people of Maui are still on our mind all the time,” said Bovaird, who recently hopped over to that island to do a basketball clinic. “I’m hoping it continues to bring more awareness of the needs that Maui has.”
You’re Chaminade and your leading scorer is Isaac Amaral-Artharee, a guard from Oregon who averages nearly 22 points a game, has been a Silversword for six years and is working on his MBA. Look at the company he’ll be keeping next week with the other team’s stars in town.
Purdue’s Zach Edey, reigning National Player of the Year whose early production prorated over 40 minutes is 32 points, 15.5 rebounds and 5.7 blocks. He’s drawn 27 fouls in 77 minutes from defenses trying vainly to contain him. Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson, who just threw 27 points and 21 rebounds at Kentucky. Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, last year’s top scorer in the Big Sky at Northern Colorado and now averaging 20 points a game. Big East player of the year Tyler Kolek at Marquette, fresh off scoring 24 points on a tender ankle at Illinois. Judah Mintz putting up 23 points a game for Syracuse and is the leading scorer in the field, Braden Huff averaging 21 points off the bench at Gonzaga. UCLA's Adem Bona, last season's Pac-12 freshman of the year. On and on.
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No. You’re Chaminade and you believe in miracles because you remember how it happened once. Not in the Maui tournament but the time unbeaten No. 1 Virginia and player-of-the-year Ralph Sampson showed up over the holidays for a game. Nobody had really ever heard of you back in 1982, but you won 77-72 and all of college basketball shook. Might be the biggest upset ever in the sport and that includes UMBC over Virginia or Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue. Your profile has never been the same since. That led to your regular spot in Maui.
“When I took the job 13 years ago here at Chaminade I had no idea that would be brought up to me in one way or another at least once a week every week of my life,” Bovaird said. “I actually don’t get tired of it.” He said so many fans have told him they were in the stands that night, “I’m thinking there must have been 50,000 people there.”
Actually 3,383. But that evening’s magic lingers, and maybe it’s a warning for all those big names heading your way next week. Wonder if any of their coaches will mention it to their guys?
“Kansas is just going to worry about their execution of things, they’re not going to worry about that too much,” said Bovaird. But one coach might. Two of Chaminade’s victims in Maui have been Texas in 2012 and Providence in 1991. Rick Barnes coached them both.
Just like he’ll be coaching Tennessee next week. “You better believe if we happen to play Tennessee that’s going to be brought up,” Bovaird guessed.
But you’re Chaminade and all you can think of right now is Kansas, who has won about 2,300 more games against Division I opponents than you. You know chances are slim, “unless about three-quarters of the team don’t get on that plane,” Bovaird said.
He had not taken a close look at the Jayhawks until after Thursday’s Chaminade overtime loss to Hawai’i Hilo. “I may not have many sleep-filled nights after I really dive into watching Kansas. I'll push that off a little bit,” he said.
The other teams are coming to hone their games for future glory — conference titles and long runs in March. “No matter what happens you’re going to play three great games, and that’s what you want,” Painter said. “You can walk out of there 0-3 or you can walk out of there 3-0. There’s a lot of different things that can happen there, but you know playing that type of talent, you’re going to be a better team afterward.
“We want to play the best teams. And then we like warm weather. So it helps us in both areas.”
But you’re Chaminade and you see these incredible sunsets all the time. You’re not thinking about March, you’re thinking about now, and ambushing a celebrity visitor. This is going to be not one mountain to climb, but three. In three days. As hard as walking a high wire while carrying two bowling balls.
You wouldn't have it any other way.