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Classic taking flight through Hawaiian Air


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POSTED: Friday, July 17, 2009

The optimism was infectious, if slightly overstated.

Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan — like many others in the Stan Sheriff Center's Wong Hospitality Room — couldn't contain his excitement yesterday when Hawaiian Airlines was announced as the title sponsor for the inaugural Diamond Head Classic men's basketball tournament.

“;Hawaiian Airlines has been there for University of Hawaii athletics for 21 years (with the Wahine Volleyball Classic),”; Donovan said. “;They stepped forward and said, 'We'll help make your women's volleyball program one of the best in the country.'

“;I believe that's what's going to happen with the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic. This WILL become the premier (eight-team) college basketball tournament in the country.”;

OK, forget about the behemoth next door — the EA Sports Maui Invitational — for the moment. The parties involved (UH, ESPN Regional Television, and Hawaiian) still have their sights set high.

Other than a base length of partnership (three years), details were not revealed about Hawaiian's specific contributions. President Mark Dunkerley did say that the seven mainland teams would likely fly on a Hawaiian jet to get to or from UH's new signature tournament, and a release said Hawaiian would assist in marketing support.

USC, UNLV, St. Mary's (Calif.), SMU, College of Charleston, Northeastern and Western Michigan are the visiting teams who will play in the Sheriff Center Dec. 22, 23, and 25. Ten of the 12 games in the tourney will be on the ESPN family of networks.

Pete Derzis, senior vice president and general manager of ERT (which owns the tournament) said it was a no-brainer to approach Hawaiian with the proposition.

“;It started to really percolate within the last couple of months,”; Derzis said. “;I think everybody saw value, and everybody saw common cause and a common opportunity, and I think when that's the mindset of the people, it came together fairly quickly and we're really excited about it.”;

ESPN will still shoulder the bulk of travel and team expenses as previously announced, Derzis said.

Dunkerley said his company hasn't had such a prominent, national title sponsorship before.

“;We get to see a lot of proposals, and many proposals have to be thought of long and hard, but I have to tell you when we saw this proposal, we felt it was something we wanted to jump on board right away,”; Dunkerley said.

Hawaii coach Bob Nash was away on a recruiting trip yesterday, though he did say in a statement, “;Hawaiian Airlines is an iconic Hawaii business and I couldn't imagine a more fitting sponsor for this tournament.”;

Sheraton Hotels was previously announced as the presenting and hotel sponsor of the tourney.

Hosts don't pick

Derzis said the tournament pairings aren't far off. But while host Hawaii got to pick its side of the bracket in its Rainbow Classic in past years, the Rainbow Warriors will have no say in the Diamond Head matchups.

Derzis did add that getting the 'Bows into the evening time slot would be ideal.