LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) Chaminade’s campus sits atop a knoll on the outskirts of Honolulu, its walkways and common areas splashed with kaleidoscopes of tropical flowers.
The towering hotels and famous sands of Waikiki Beach are below, just a few miles away. Iconic Diamond Head volcano looms nearby. The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean stretches across the horizon in the distance.
”It’s beautiful campus. A lot of people say that, but it truly is,” Chaminade basketball coach Eric Bovaird said. ”It’s just an incredible setting.”
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The Silverswords have had a pretty good view of major college basketball the past 30 years, too.
Considered college basketball’s premiere early season tournament, the Maui Invitational has a setting like no other, played in one of the world’s most scenic places and inside the tiny Lahaina Civic Center.
The tournament’s list of participants reads like a who’s who of college basketball: Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke. This year’s tournament has a strong field, including No. 2 Arizona, No. 16 San Diego State, Missouri and Purdue.
In the midst of all these power programs is Chaminade, which shares its campus with a high school and is the only Catholic university on the Hawaiian islands.
As hosts of the Maui Invitational, the Silverswords have a nearly unprecedented opportunity for a Division II program: playing three straight days on national television against some of the biggest and best programs in the country.
Without the tournament, Chaminade would likely be a footnote in history except for pulling off a big upset 34 years ago.
Because of the Maui Invitational, the Silverswords have kept their name alive in the national college basketball conversation, known as the scrappy, undersized team that faces the big boys every year – and sometimes beats them.
”Every basketball person around the world knows the Maui Invitational and that brings some prestige to the university,” Bovaird said. ”When I talk to people and have a Chaminade shirt on or talk to a recruit, the first thing they always say is `Aren’t you that school … yeah, that’s our tournament.’ It’s a huge deal for us.”
The seeds for the Maui Invitational were planted with one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.
It was Dec. 23, 1982. After a two-game tournament in Tokyo, top-ranked Virginia stopped in Oahu to face Chaminade on the way back.
The Cavaliers were undefeated and appeared to be unstoppable behind 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson, who could go one to win a third straight national player of the year after the season.
Chaminade, with an enrollment of about 800 at the time, lost to Wayland Baptist two days earlier. The game was expected to be little more than a stopover for Virginia on its long trip back from Japan.
Instead, it turned into the ultimate David-vs-Goliath takedown when the Silverswords, shooting almost entirely from the outside, beat Virginia 77-72.
The game was played in front of about 3,000 fans and had no television coverage, yet word spread quickly across the sports world.
Even after people realized the score was not a typo, it was still hard to believe a tiny school most sports fans had never heard of had taken down the mighty Cavaliers.
”It was one of the notable upsets because people couldn’t believe that happened,” Chaminade athletic director Bill Villa said. ”We didn’t have the social media things we have now. It was just a moment people remember if they’re sports fans.”
Not long after the game, Virginia coach Terry Holland suggested to Chaminade athletic director Mike Vasconcellos that the Silverswords should host a tournament in Hawaii.
Two years later, the first Maui Invitational was played, won by Providence. The tournament grew from there, becoming a pre-Thanksgiving Day destination for some of college basketball’s best programs.
The Maui Invitational also has occasionally become a forecaster; four times the tournament winner went on to win the national championship, including Connecticut in 2010-11.
Chaminade got it all started three decades ago with an upset that still resonates.
”Amazingly, it gets brought up to me almost once a day, and I’m not even exaggerating,” Bovaird said. ”I knew it was a big deal, but one thing I did not know is that at some point during my day, there’s a good chance that will come up.”
The Silverswords have added to their reputation as upset artists through the years at the Maui Invitational. At 7-81 all-time, Chaminade has a .081 percentage and nearly as many losses as all the other teams in tournament history combined.
But the Silverswords are scrappy, can shoot with just about anyone and will punish any team that takes them lightly.
Chaminade did it to Texas in 2012, knocking off the Longhorns in the opening round. Oklahoma fell to the Silverswords in the seventh-place game two years before. Princeton, Stanford, Providence and Davidson have all fallen under the Swords as well.
”It seems like every year they are close to upsetting someone or they do pull off the upset,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.
Given the chance, the Silverswords will do it again.