Earlier this week it was reported that John Calipari has turned down an invitation to the 2014 EA Sports Maui Invitational. NCAA rules prevent teams from playing in this tournament more than every four years, and Kentucky’s last trip was in 2010. Kentucky has played in this tournament in 1993, 1997, 2002, 2006, and in 2010- nearly every time they were eligible. It was something the BBN looked forward to during Thanksgiving week every four years- and you could expect the Hawaiian island to be occupied by out-of-towners dawning blue t-shirts. This scene is no more it seems, at least not in the Calipari-Era.
Cal hasn’t hidden the fact that he doesn’t like tournaments like this one, where teams play three games in three days. It was also reported that he told Mizzou’s Head Coach, Frank Haith that he thinks it’s too long of a trip to make (5 time zones to be exact).
Some seem to think there’s more than travel factors influencing Cal’s decision to deny the invitation. Could it be the memory of Kemba Walker’s 29 points to an 84-67 UConn win over Kentucky back in Maui in 2010? The same Connecticut team that ended Kentucky’s tournament dance in the Final Four just months later. Kentucky has also not won the Maui Invitational since 1993 with Rick Pitino.
Considering Cal has since won a national title, I feel like that may not be his reasoning. Maui Invitational is used by lots of coaches as a recruiting tool, but at Kentucky they let the tradition, banners, facilities, and collection of 5-star recruits and NBA stars do that for them. Maui Invitational usually hosts storied programs and boasts tough match-ups and good competition. UK, however will play Louisville and is expecting a number of other nationally televised match-ups, per usual. The Invitational is also used to gauge your team’s strengths and weaknesses early in the season, but said match-ups should take care of that. It can also boost the ratings percentage index (RPI) and strength of schedule when it comes to tournament selection, but again, the previously mentioned match-ups should take care of that as well.
The Invitational does now include a fourth game that doesn’t count against the NCAA limit on schedules. This game occurs before the three that take place Thanksgiving week and the home team gets the proceeds, so UK could get an easy win and a pay day; but do they need it?
Haith made a good point on entering the tournament. “It’s something early in the year for your guys to get excited about rather than just playing a bunch of guarantee games.”
I agree with Haith, most schools, including Kentucky usually play fairly small schools early on, resulting in easy wins. But in this case I don’t know that the pros outweigh the cons; for Cal, they obviously do not.
Tournament director, Dave Odom, former South Carolina and Wake Forest coach confirmed that Calipari has turned down the 2014 invitation.
Odom said “I think every coach has the right to decide what’s right for their program, I respect that.” He also noted that other “dynasty” programs regularly participate, UNC returns in 2016, Kansas in 2015, and UCLA also has a spot reserved. Odom noted that Kentucky would be missed. “It’s hurtful, for sure,” he said. “Wherever Kentucky goes, Kentucky has a presence. We’d like that presence every four years to be in Maui.”
The Maui invitational tries to have a representative from each conference each year. Arkansas will represent the SEC in 2013; Haith and Missouri accepted what would be considered “Kentucky’s” 2014 invitation.
Kentucky has confirmed a “multi-year” deal with the Barclays Center to host Kentucky and Maryland, like this past season where Kentucky topped Maryland in a 72-69 thriller. This seems to be Calipari’s replacement for the Maui Invitational. Next season the Barclays Classic will also host St. John’s, Georgia Tech (including former Kentucky player, Stacey Poole), Ole Miss, and Penn State- all solid programs.
Personally, I have no problem forgoing the Maui Invitational. Cal seems to receive criticism with every decision made about the program, this being no exception. It has it’s pro’s and con’s but I think that choosing not to drag the team across the country and play 4 games in a week is probably in their best interest. The travel and schedule will just add unnecessary strain on what will presumably be a young basketball team, early on in the season. I think that Maui Classic or not, UK will have a strong schedule and plenty of opportunity for the BBN to travel.