It’s the Maui Invitational — but Asheville style



Preparations are underway for the Maui Invitational’s move to Asheville. A site visit is underway to fine tune the plans for the event.



a sign on the floor


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The tournament is typically held the week of Thanksgiving in Maui, but, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, the venue has been moved to Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville. The venue and the timing is different this year, but organizers are gearing up.

“We’re not trying to be Maui. We are trying to present just the best experience for the student-athletes in a year where things are crazy for them,” said Demp Bradford, president of the Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission.

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Bradford said everything is coming together for Asheville to play host to the eight NCAA basketball teams for the annual tournament.

“The court was refinished last year,” Bradford said. “It’s only been played on once at the Southern Conference. And then, of course, we have the new video boards and the new LED boards.”

Bradford said the tournament will shine the spotlight on Asheville, with the potential to attract future events.

“We hope that the exposure will lead to bigger and better things,” Bradford said. “I don’t know if we will get any bigger than this, but it will lead to additional events wanting to come to Asheville. We’re really excited to be hosting it.”

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This tournament will not include a crowd because of COVID-19 restrictions. Organizers also worked with the Buncombe County Health Department to create a plan to make sure the event is held safely.

“It was presented to the state of North Carolina. They reviewed it,” Bradford said. “A copy was sent to the governor’s office. And so, we had to present that plan before we could actually send the official invite to the group to come here to Asheville.”

Bradford said the local economy will benefit from the event, even without visiting fans in the stands

“Just the participants alone — the hotel nights and the food and beverage and everything is projected to be over $1.2 million,” Bradford said.

Bradford said all the plans should make for a great event.

“Our objective is just to have good college basketball and have it in the safest manner for these players,” he said.

The dates haven’t been officially set, although organizers said it will be at the end of November to the first part of December.

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Roy Williams on the Maui Invitational moving to Asheville:

As many people know, Maui is one of my favorite places in the world and I’ve always loved playing in that tournament. I love the people that run it, but because of Covid I know we can’t go to Maui this time. I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I heard Asheville might be one of the locations that was being considered as an alternate site. From what I understand, the people in Asheville did a great job explaining to the tournament staff that they run the Southern Conference Tournament there, they have the hotel space, they have everything we would need, and at the end of the day it looks like Asheville won out through that process.

Again, Maui is one of my favorite places to go, but my hometown is as well, and I congratulate the people in Asheville because they did a great job convincing the tournament organizers that they will do a great job. Now I have to concern myself with making sure our basketball team plays well.”

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