Maui Invitational turns 30 years old

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If you really think about it, the Maui Invitational owes its existence to a broom.

That was the only way legendary Robert E. Lee High School coach Paul Hatcher could simulate for his players what it was going to be like to play against all 7 feet, 3 inches of Ralph Sampson's high school frame. If you could arc your shot over this broom, Hatcher would tell his team, you might have a chance to get it over the unreasonably athletic, unfathomably tall force standing (or worse) leaping between you and the basket. So Hatcher would hold the broom in the air, and the Leemen would launch shot after comical shot over it.

Tony Randolph literally knew the drill. Randolph was from Staunton, Va.; he'd played enough pickup runs against Sampson, a Harrisonburg native, to gawk at how much taller Sampson seemed to be getting every new time he took the court. Coach Hatcher's visual aid was dead on. You had to take Sampson outside. Posting him up, Randolph said, "was like asking to get your shot snatched off the backboard." If you couldn't step away and make a few funny-looking, high-arcing jumpers, you were done.

Sampson averaged 30 points, 19 rebounds and 4 blocks a game as a senior at Harrisonburg; he was one of the most famous and highly touted high school basketball prospects ever. Randolph was, well, not: He enrolled at Chaminade, an 800-student NAIA school in far-flung Honolulu, and moved his life 4,826 miles west.

The next time they met, in the winter of 1982, Sampson was at the height of his powers. He'd already handily dispatched Georgetown center Patrick Ewing -- he had 23 points, 16 rebounds and 7 blocks against the Hoyas -- just before No. 1 Virginia flew to Tokyo for the "Game of the Century" against Phi Slama Jama-era Houston. Virginia didn't even need Sampson to top Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler; he sat out with pneumonia and the Cavaliers still won.

There was one stop left on the grand season-opening tour: A quick Dec. 23 trip to Honolulu, to tune up against Chaminade. Virginia coach Terry Holland had suggested the stop-off; it would break up the travel and keep the Cavaliers loose. Besides, the Silverswords had an old high school friend of Sampson's on the team, didn't they? Also: Hawaii in December. Why not?

"We broke off the travel, stopped off, and Sampson was [feeling better] and ready to play," said Dave Odom, then assistant coach at Virginia and now the Maui Invitational tournament director. "We had a great practice.

"Of course," Odom said, "we lost the game."

Randolph led the way with 19 points. He made 9 of his 12 field goal attempts against Sampson, most of them step-back 20- or 22-foot floaters -- the same parabolic broom shots he learned from Hatcher at R.E. Lee. Sampson scored 12.

Two years later, the Maui Invitational was born.


Of course, "of course" only applies to "Chaminade 77, No. 1 Virginia 72" in retrospect. By now, the greatest upset in college basketball history is codified legend -- the best example of David's primacy over Goliath in a sport that celebrates the underdog more than any other.

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