Auburn, Ala.--Coach Bruce Pearl continues to take the Auburn Tigers to new levels in recruiting and in 2018 he'll have a chance to showcase his program in the premier early season basketball tournament when they travel to Hawaii to take part in the Maui Jim Invitational on Nov. 19-21.
The tournament will feature eight Div. I teams for the first time in its 35-year history as the Tigers will be joined by perennial powerhouse programs Arizona, Duke, Xavier and Gonzaga along with Illinois, Iowa State and San Diego State. All 12 Maui games will be televised by ESPN networks and it's an opportunity to take the next step as a program said Pearl.
“The Maui Invitational in the last 25 years has been college basketball’s most prestigious tournament in the country,” said Pearl. “It is reserved for the elite. I want to thank Dave Odom and the committee for taking my word on the fact that we would have our program ready and as important, fill up half the gym.
“That is the requirement to be invited to Maui, you have to fill up half the gym. That’s where we are headed. The field is one of the best they have ever had along with all of the Hall of Fame coaches, every NBA scout and NBA general managers who will be there. It is quite a festival.”
Pearl was an assistant for Dr. Tom Davis at Iowa when the 11th-ranked Hawkeyes won the 1987 Maui Invitational with wins over Stanford (78-75), eventual National Champion No. 7 Kansas (100-81) and Villanova (97-74) in the championship game.
“I coached in the Maui Invitational as an assistant at Iowa,” said Pearl. “We beat Larry Brown and Danny Manning the year they won the National Championship. Then, we beat Rollie Massimino and Villanova in the championship game. It was really special. Iowa has a banner hanging in Lahaina Civic Center. Back when I coached there, it wasn’t air-conditioned. It is air-conditioned now.”
Duke, which has won the Maui Jim Maui Invitational five times – more than any other program in history – captured the NCAA Championship in 2015. Arizona and Gonzaga both appeared in the Elite Eight in 2015 and Iowa State, Xavier and San Diego State have each earned Sweet 16 berths in the past five seasons.
“Our fields always showcase the best in college basketball, and 2018 will be as strong as we’ve ever had,” said Dave Odom, a former Coach of the Year in both the SEC and ACC and tournament chairman.
Host Chaminade University will play on the mainland in the opening round for the first time. Over the last five seasons, 44 participating players have been drafted by the NBA, and 13 teams that started their season in Maui advanced to the Sweet 16 or further in the NCAA Tournament during the same year.
Since the inception of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational in 1984, 114 schools representing 26 conferences and 40 states have competed in the event. Teams that have participated in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational throughout the event’s history own 67 of the 78 NCAA Division I Basketball Championships. Six schools have gone on to win the National Championship after competing in Maui earlier in the season.
“We have to be ready,” said Pearl. “It is two years out. I promised them we would be ready. It is a step in the direction to try to be relevant.”