Chaminade seeks to rekindle magic against UNC in Maui

In this Dec. 23, 1982, file photo, Chaminade's Tony Randolph, right, moves around Virginia's Ralph Sampson during an NCAA college basketball game in Honolulu.
In this Dec. 23, 1982, file photo, Chaminade's Tony Randolph, right, moves around Virginia's Ralph Sampson during an NCAA college basketball game in Honolulu. AP

It happens when he’s in the grocery store or just out and about in Honolulu, happens when he’s wearing a Chaminade shirt or when people recognize him. Too many times to count, people have come up to Eric Bovaird wanting to talk about 1982.

In parts of Hawaii, it hasn’t really been 34 years since tiny Chaminade defeated mighty Ralph Sampson and No. 1 Virginia. There, Bovaird said, college basketball’s greatest upset lives on, always at the forefront of memories, always discussed this time of year, especially.

“If somebody recognizes either myself or sees my shirt, they bring that up,” Bovaird, in his sixth season as Chaminade’s coach, said with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “That’s the first thing. That’s like the ice-breaker they say to me when they see me.”

Now Bovaird and Chaminade, a Division II school in Honolulu, will attempt to rekindle the magic. The Maui Invitational begins on Monday, and Chaminade (2-0), the annual host of the event, will take its shot against No. 5 North Carolina (4-0).

The Tar Heels and the Silverswords are a continent and half an ocean apart, and on opposite ends of the college basketball spectrum. Chaminade, Bovaird said, is lucky if 500 people come to its home games. UNC plays in the cavernous Smith Center, with its 21,750 seats.

The Tar Heels are known best as one of the most successful, tradition-rich teams in the history of the sport. The Silverswords are known best, still, for that single, program-defining victory against Virginia in 1982. Now they’ll come together on a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in a little gym.

Little gym

The Lahaina Civic Center, the size of an average community recreation center, seats about 2,500 people. Just about every seat will be filled – and then some – during the three days of the Maui Invitational, which is perhaps the most revered of college basketball’s Thanksgiving-week tournament season.

Many who arrive at the gym on Monday night (11:30 p.m. in Raleigh) will be there to catch a glimpse of the Tar Heels, who, under coach Roy Williams, have made it back to Maui every four years. Others in attendance might be there to see UNC, too – but they’ll be hoping for improbable history to repeat itself.

“The history of Chaminade, everybody believes we always have a shot,” Bovaird said.

Chaminade’s victory against Virginia – which came when Chaminade didn’t compete as an NCAA member but instead as an NAIA school – helped inspire the start of the Maui Invitational. The tournament began in 1984.

During the 32 years since, Chaminade, always the underdog, has won seven times in the Maui Invitational. The most recent of those victories came in 2012, Bovaird’s second season, when Chaminade defeated Texas in another memorable upset.

If it happened then, and if Chaminade found a way against Virginia in 1982 then, well – maybe history can repeat itself. Bovaird understands the odds. Yet he understands his program’s culture, too, and how its past inspires belief in the present.

“The majority of the people – they believe,” Bovaird said, referencing both his players and those around Hawaii with an interest in college basketball. “They believe we’re going to pull off an upset every time we play in the Maui Invitational.

“So I know that’s basically unrealistic as far as to win every game. But when we’re playing the Maui Invitational, we hope to be in the game and have a chance to win at the end. And if we can make it through 38, 39 minutes and still have a chance to win at the end against North Carolina. ...”

His voice trails off, imagining the possibility. There’s another side of the vision, too.

“The guys have faith”

Bovaird experienced it in 2012. After the victory against Texas, Chaminade played against UNC in a consolation game on the final day of the tournament. The Tar Heels, perhaps motivated by an ugly loss against Butler the day before, beat the Silverswords by 42 points.

If UNC plays to its potential, if Chaminade is unable to make the past come alive, the margin could be that large again on Monday. Chaminade, after all, doesn’t have any players UNC would have considered recruiting – a fact Bovaird noted.

Yet he has recruited a few guys with Division I talent. Chaminade’s best player, Rohndell Goodwin, was the North California junior college player of the year, and he went to Chaminade because he’d have two years of eligibility remaining instead of one. The team’s point guard, Sam Daly, was a starter for a while at Grand Canyon, a low-major conference Division I school.

“The guys have faith and believe in themselves,” Bovaird said. “They believe they can play with these guys. … We’re one of the top offensive teams in Division II, and we believe we can score on anybody.”

They believe because of other reasons, too – or at least because of one other reason: what happened in 1982. Some people on the islands are still talking about it, still believing that something like that might still be possible.

For Chaminade, time is running out to repeat history. After the 2017 Maui Invitational, the Silverswords will no longer play in the tournament in Maui. Chaminade will still be a part of the Maui Invitational, technically, but it will play in early-round games on the road.

In 2018, that means Chaminade could find itself playing at Duke. Or at Arizona. And so time is running short for Chaminade to recapture what it did 34 years ago – what it did, on a smaller scale, in 2012.

In the middle of last week, Bovaird said he stopped at a restaurant. One of the people there, he said, referenced the Tar Heels’ impending arrival, and told Bovaird he couldn’t wait for the game. His players share the anticipation.

“For some of these guys it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Bovaird said. “Basically none of my players were recruited by North Carolina, but to have that opportunity to play against them once in their life is something they’ll cherish forever.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter