Youth basketball in the Cayman Islands is seeking to make a big statement in the region.
For the first time ever, Cayman will be sending national Under-15 boys and girls teams to participate in the CentroBasket Championships. Mexico City, Mexico will host the female segment on 15-19 August with the boys heading to San Salvador, El Salvador on 23-31 August.
Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro serves as the girls head coach and states Cayman is poised for a huge showing.
“Some nations have academies where all they do is live and sleep basketball,” O’Garro said. “But I feel we can create upsets. At this age group, there is not much people can do to create a bigger gap. Puerto Rico is our first game and they are the defending champions. Cayman can show we’re not there to participate but to compete. We believe we can give them a run for their money.
“We’ll be up against nations like Mexico, the Bahamas and Panama; it’s some eight countries in all. Our second game is against Guatemala and our third against Barbados. We leave on Monday, 13 August and come back on Monday, 20 August.”
O’Garro doubles as technical director for Cayman basketball and will be assisted by Wendy Manzanares, a noted local women’s coach and player. Latasha Nixon, a decent player in her own right years ago, is the girls team manager.
All will be overseeing a 12-member squad in Melissa Bridgemohan, Alyssa Connor, Rochel Gardener, Alessandra Hawkins, Khadijah Lewin, Yolanni Manzanares, La-Torae Nixon (vice-captain), Khailan O’Connor, Hannah Parchment (team captain), Chloe Powery, Amanda Stone and Jade Wheeler.
Most of the team has experience playing in the local youth leagues, from the U14 ranks up to the U19 category. The stars of the team figure to be Parchment, Nixon and Powery. All have played in the women’s league, with Nixon, 14, having been the centrepiece of back-to-back national championships with the Home Gas Flames.
For the record, CentroBasket is an International Basketball Federation (FIBA)-sponsored basketball tournament featuring Central American and Caribbean countries in the Central American and Caribbean Confederation. The top four teams earn berths to the FIBA America Championships, which leads up to the FIBA World Championships and the Olympics.
O’Garro states Cayman qualified for CentroBasket through their participation in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation U15 Youth Championships.
“This tournament was one that you had to qualify for. Only three teams participated in the qualifier and Cayman was one of them. As a result, we got an automatic berth into this tournament.”
The boys side is slated to leave on 20 August and return on 3 September. Angela O’Garro, Voot’s wife, is expected to be the team manager with Duran ‘Trini’ Whittaker serving as head coach and Erwin ‘Bong’ Blancaflor as assistant coach.
Local referee Gregory Hamilton, one of three FIBA-certified officials in Cayman, will join the teams in Mexico and El Salvador, according to FIBA mandates. Both the girls and boys squads have been training for some six months at the First Baptist Church. Their trips are being made possible by parental and governmental contributions along with private sponsorship. Sports Port Ltd provided uniforms for both sides.