Eight US teams to play at NCAA Cayman tournament

The new gymnasium at John Gray High School is ready for its initiation.

Eight high-level U.S. college basketball teams will descend on Grand Cayman this weekend to participate in next week’s Cayman Islands Classic, a new preseason tournament staged at John Gray.

The games will start Monday, Nov. 20, and will continue through Wednesday’s championship round.

Five of the eight teams involved – headlined by the University of Iowa and the University of Cincinnati – played in a postseason tournament last year, and all eight of them have played in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s postseason tournament multiple times since the turn of the century.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery of the tournament. “We’ve got great teams coming in. Really good players. And it’s a superb location. I’ve been there before on vacation, not for anything else. But it’s such an incredibly beautiful place. Not only will all the participants be excited about going there, but I think a lot of fans will go as well. I know there’s a lot of people that have said, ‘I’m already in for the Cayman Islands. We’ve got our tickets and we’ve got our hotels set up.’”

Monday’s opening round will have four games.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns will square off against the Iowa Hawkeyes at noon, and the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits will play the University of Wyoming Cowboys at 2:30 p.m.

The University of Richmond Spiders will play a regional rival, University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, at 5 p.m. and the Cincinnati Bearcats will face off against the State University of New York at Buffalo Bulls at 7:30 p.m.

Ahmad Wagner plays forward for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

All of the schools will travel more than 1,000 miles to play in the tournament, and the furthest competitor, Wyoming, will travel more than 2,000 miles to participate. Wyoming’s team will stay overnight in Charlotte, NC, before arriving in Grand Cayman for the tournament on Saturday.

Many of these teams elect to play preseason tournaments each year for the camaraderie and bonding it allows their student-athletes. Nate Oats, Buffalo’s coach, said Thursday that the Cayman Islands Classic is sure to grow over time to rival the established preseason tournaments in Hawaii and Alaska.

“I think we’re honored, and I think it’s a great experience,” said Coach Oats. “I think this tournament is going to blow up. I’ve already heard some of the teams they’re getting for next year. I’m going to beg to come to this every four years. You can only do these every four years, but I’m going to try to make this thing as often as I can, and I think it’s great that we’re able to make it for the first time.”

Tickets for the preliminary games cost US$50 per person. The prices will be increased to US$60 and US$75 respectively for the semifinal and championship games of the tournament.

The 22,000 square foot gymnasium at John Gray High School was completed in May at a cost of $8.8 million, and the entire planning and building process took a decade to complete. Work on the school’s new campus began in 2008 but was temporarily halted due to a lack of funds.

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