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Hoops fans in for tourney taste test


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POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coke Classic: Same old taste, newfound public appreciation after a failed experiment. Or was it all a marketing ploy?

Diamond Head Classic: New basketball tournament, not a re-invention of the favorite local soda from the '70s (Too young? Ask your pop).

But maybe it, too, will remind us of the quality of the original formula, before the Rainbow Classic hit hard times, and the Pepsi of this analogy, the Maui Invitational, dominated the market on big-time holiday hoops in the islands.

This is a speculative venture for several reasons, including the Maui tourney's big-boy status and the state of the economy (no, yesterday's stock market spike was not caused by the earth-shattering news of another roundball event in the middle of the Pacific).

But it's a can't-miss for the host University of Hawaii, according to AD Jim Donovan. The Hawaii Tourism Authority—notoriously tight with sports promo money unless your initials are NFL or PGA—considers it a boon, also.

ESPN Regional Television, which owns the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, is shouldering the financial risk.

“;We're the bank,”; VP Pete Derzis said.

For many years the Rainbow Classic was the flagship of UH-hosted athletic events, often featuring the best teams in the nation and the greatest players, up to and including Michael Jordan.

No one can forget AC and Alika beating Paul Pierce-led Kansas, the North Carolina-Michigan national championship prelude, or the exploits of the local Fab Five, led by current UH coach Bob Nash.

The Rainbow Classic will survive, but in a four-team format that will save plenty of money. It will probably feature weather-vane low-majors, mid-middles and high-minors (so nothing's changed from recent fields, you snicker).

“;We were paying for seven teams and playing just three of them,”; said Donovan, who estimates a $120K bonanza in saved expenses right off the bat.

Word is Outrigger, a long-time supporter of UH sports, including the Rainbow Classic, may come on board as title sponsor of the Diamond Head. With tourism down, it's questionable if they've got six figures lying around for marketing, but the hotel chain may project plenty of empty rooms to barter.

As for the 'Bows, the first DHC dovetails with Roderick Flemings' senior season. If he's as good as his hype, he'll already be in the hall of fame. Ah, but a 2009 tourney with Flemings against some of the other schools that recruited him, like Arkansas, UConn, Georgetown and Kentucky? Works for me.

The tournament final is on Christmas Day. Maybe enough time before the start of conference for the elite teams, maybe not.

Kemper Sports owns the Maui, but ESPN pays for TV rights. If the new tourney thrives on less-expensive Oahu, will ESPN re-up with Kemper? Is there room for two big holiday tournaments in Hawaii? Recent history tells us no.

It's a four-year deal. By 2012 we'll know if the Diamond Head Classic is the real thing.