Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, December 23, 2001



Tourney must return to
its classic lineups

By Dave Reardon

You can blame the empty seats at the Rainbow Classic the past four nights on many things. Choose your favorites, as many as you like: Christmas shopping, 10th-ranked Boston College's first-round ouster, or the sad fact that the Hawaii foreign legion for whatever reason hasn't gripped the hearts of local fans.

Hawaii athletic director Hugh Yoshida points toward the moving of the tournament to the week before Christmas.

"This is the first time in 38 years we changed the dates," Yoshida said. "People aren't used to it."

A brief trip back to 1992, however, illustrates a bigger problem.

It was only nine years ago and three miles down the street. But Michigan's 79-78 victory over North Carolina seems like it happened in another lifetime on another planet.

The preview of the 1993 NCAA Tournament championship was a mere semifinal in the Rainbow Classic, back when it was played at the Blaisdell Arena and was sponsored by Kraft.

Three months after Jalen Rose's last-second shot beat the Tar Heels on Kapiolani Boulevard, Chris Webber called for the timeout he didn't have and North Carolina got its revenge and the national crown in the Superdome. The Tar Heels had to get past Kansas in the semifinals to get to the Wolverines. By the way, the Jayhawks also played in the Rainbow Classic that season, beating Hawaii in the other semifinal.

Of course, the games were sellouts.

This year, the semifinalists were Georgia, Iona, Miami (Ohio) and Hawaii -- not a ranked team among them. It's very unlikely any one of these teams will make the Final Four (although Georgia might have the talent to do it with another year of experience).

They are all savvy, hard-nosed teams, and any one or two could end up in the NCAAs in March. But even Georgia, which made last year's dance due to its strength of schedule and big-conference affiliation, doesn't have the star-power of a North Carolina, Michigan or Kansas.

It's hard to draw the magic names like Duke, Illinois and Indiana -- which have all won the Rainbow Classic in the past -- because many of the elite programs choose to play in other tournaments like the Maui Invitational.

In past years, commitments for the next season's field were released at the Rainbow Classic. But not this year. UH associate head coach Bob Nash is still working on the bookings.

"I'm biased, but the Rainbow Classic's potential must be realized," said sportscaster Jim Leahey, whose father Chuck was one of the tournament's founders. "It must rival the Maui Invitational in quality. It does not do that now."

That's largely because of TV. The Rainbow Classic has had to scramble for national exposure the past few years, while Maui has ESPN.

Yoshida said the school is trying to negotiate an ongoing contract with CNN/SI, which televised this year's tournament.

"We've got a handshake at this point," he said. "We're looking at a long-term relationship."

The long-term health of the Rainbow Classic could depend on it.

David Carey, president and CEO of title sponsor Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, said TV is key to his company's involvement in the future.

"It's our intention to continue," Carey said. "A major issue was the television contract. That's a positive thing for Outrigger and UH's recruiting."

In this case, "recruiting" means securing future Rainbow Classic opponents as much as it means signing up new UH players.

UH Athletics
Ka Leo O Hawaii

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