Hoops leaders focus on history

As youngsters make history for Cayman, the country’s top basketball figures have their focus on the record books.

For the first time ever, the Cayman Islands is sending national Under-15 boys and girls teams to participate in the CentroBasket Championships. Mexico City, Mexico hosts the female segment until Sunday, 19 August, with the boys heading to San Salvador, El Salvador on 23-31 August.

Cayman Islands Basketball Association President Joel Jefferson states win or lose, the tournament represents monumental progress.

“I’ve only been president for nine months now and I’m happy to have two teams put together of this nature,” Jefferson said. “About 20 years ago, I was a young basketball player too.

“This speaks to where the sport is going in Cayman. This will build character and strength. I’m happy to be here in this position and see it take place.”

Jefferson, who owns the Dominos Pizza franchise in Cayman, took over the reigns of local basketball from Bryan Hunter, the managing partner at Appleby law firm. He is a former player who competed in all of the local leagues and represented Cayman in international competitions.

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.

Cayman qualified for CentroBasket through their participation in the Caribbean Basketball Confederation U15 Youth Championships. Only three countries were able to send a team to that tournament and thus Cayman earned an automatic berth.

Jefferson states he has no reservations about Cayman’s readiness for this month’s competition.

“This is part of the growing process. No one here has ever participated on a team like this. Results are part of it but you have to start somewhere. They’ve done five to six months training and I expect them to come with the best of their ability.”

The girls will be 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.

Victor ‘Voot’ O’Garro serves as the head coach, Wendy Manzanares is the assistant coach and Latasha Nixon is the team manager. The girls, whose uniforms are being provided by Sports Port Ltd, have been training since the start of the year at the First Baptist Church.

O’Garro, who doubles as technical director for Cayman basketball, states the focus is on making history.

“This is not just a basketball tournament, this is history in the making,” O’Garro said. “These young men and women have the chance to make history in Cayman basketball. This is the first time we’re participating at this level.”

Most of O’Garro’s girls have 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.

The boys side is slated to leave next Monday, 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.

For Director of Sports Collin Anglin, arguably Cayman’s most decorated basketball player, the U15 teams will succeed only by giving their all.

“Congratulations to the team, I’m proud of you,” Anglin said. “I also give the blessings of the Minister of Sports Mark Scotland and Premier McKeeva Bush. Both wanted to let you know they are also proud of you.

“I’ll tell you what former basketball association president Tony Scott said, as long as you give your best, we believe in you 110 per cent. Regardless of the final score, we’re proud of you. Be good ambassadors, show good sportsmanship, give it everything you have and leave everything on the court.”