ESPN has presented the Allstate Maui Invitational men’s college basketball tournament from Hawaii for more than 35 years.
A staple of ESPN’s annual Feast Week programming, the field is always filled with highly-ranked teams, and that is certainly the case in 2023 with five Top 15 programs – No. 1 Kansas, No. 2 Purdue, No. 4 Marquette, No. 7 Tennessee, and No. 11 Gonzaga, plus perennial powers UCLA and Syracuse, and Chaminade.
But this year’s Maui Invitational – tipping off today at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 – has even greater significance. With the tournament being played in Honolulu after wildfires devastated the island of Maui in August, ESPN’s coverage will highlight relief efforts and celebrate Maui, which has played host to the Invitational for 40 years.
Analysts Jay Bilas and Bill Walton – who have covered Maui for years, and Vice President of Production David Ceisler, were among a contingent of ESPNers who visited the island in the days leading up to the tournament so they could witness firsthand the impact of the wildfires. Veteran play-by-play voice Kanoa Leahey, a Hawaiian native, will also offer an invaluable local perspective as a member of ESPN’s broadcast team this week.
ESPN’s coverage will include unique features filmed in recent weeks in Maui – including an essay narrated by Walton (watch above). Men’s and women’s coaches and players from across the sport have also contributed inspirational and supportive “Aloha Maui” messages that will be incorporated into game telecasts.
Ceisler, who has been involved in managing ESPN’s Maui production for nearly a decade, discusses the plans for the Invitational in detail.
What did you witness when you traveled to Maui prior to the tournament?
I’m not sure anyone on our team could have been properly prepared for what we saw in the burn zone. It’s devastating and so hard to believe what this island has experienced. Massive and utter destruction to the most beautiful and peaceful place. People we met have lost everything, and yet they have a spirit of being thankful. It’s just amazing.
Why did you decide to travel to Maui?
It was important that our lead production team and lead talent went to the burn zone to see it in person. It’s hard to talk about it without seeing it firsthand. I’m very appreciative of our college basketball management team, led by Meg Aronowitz, for supporting our efforts and adding the resources we needed to do this properly.
How did ESPN prepare to cover this event in Maui beyond basketball?
We wanted to be authentic. Having our advisors and Kanoa has been so important in helping us tell these stories. We have talked to people who understand the island and the tragedy that so many experienced. [Vice President, ESPN Corporate Citizenship] Kevin Martinez helped connect us to Todd Apo at the Hawaii Community Foundation, which helped shape our plans in the early stages. Esther VanHuystee, senior managing producer on college basketball, has also worked tirelessly managing our creative shoots and organizing all the content we share across our platforms.
What do you want fans to take away from ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Maui Invitational?
As important as the games will be, I want fans to remember what so many people on Maui have been through. The games will be great, and our production teams will do a terrific job, but I hope in our coverage, we do justice to those affected and help them tell their personal stories.