It’s a dilemma worthy of the proverbial line in the sand. The eight head coaches participating in the Cayman Islands Classic this week have to make sure their players do not spend too much time soaking in the sun on Seven Mile Beach.
Many of the coaches want their players to enjoy the environment and culture of Cayman while they are here, but they also want to make sure their teams are ready to compete at a high level.
For Nate Oats, the coach of the State University of New York at Buffalo, it’s an easy equation.
He wants his players to have a good time and he has no intention of keeping them locked in the gym. Oats has been monitoring the Cayman weather from Buffalo, which held a high of 37 degrees on Friday.
“I’ll be on the beach,” he said. “I think our guys are pretty zoned in, but I’m not going to be the type that says, ‘One hundred percent straight business. Don’t get outside. Don’t enjoy the weather.’ Come on, man. It’s the Cayman Islands.
“They’d better not be on the beach for three hours the day of a game, but they’ll have enough time to enjoy it. We’re definitely coming down there to win some basketball games. But we’re going to be human beings and let them enjoy one of the best places on the planet.”
Buffalo will have an interesting reference point for the Cayman Islands Classic. Last year, Oats brought his team to the Great Alaska Shootout, an annual preseason tournament staged in Anchorage, Alaska. Compared to that trip, said Oats, the Buffalo players will have a much easier time.
“I think it’s a great experience. It’s Thanksgiving week, so that means they’re only going to miss two days of class,” he said. “And the travel really isn’t too bad. The guys were asking, ‘How many stops do we make?’ because we went to Alaska last year. I said, ‘Listen, the Cayman Islands are just south of Miami. It ain’t that far and they’re in the same time zone. It’s one layover. That’s it.’ It’s not like Alaska where you’ve got two or three layovers and you’re traveling almost across the whole globe.”
The team with the easiest travel arrangements may well be the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Coach Robert Ehsan said that his team will take a bus to Atlanta and then fly directly to Grand Cayman. The UAB team arrived Saturday afternoon and had plenty of time to adjust for Monday’s game.
UAB’s first opponent, the University of Richmond, also has a relatively easy travel date ahead of the tournament. Richmond coach Chris Mooney said he is not afraid of his players hitting the beach.
“We’ll try to have some things we do,” said Mooney. “We’ll go out and have a meal on Sunday, let them have that experience. But I think the days are so packed because of how quickly the tournament goes from one game to the next. I don’t think that’s quite as much of an issue for us.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said that his team participates in this kind of tournament every year, and they have previously gone to places like New York, the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. McCaffery has a history in Cayman, though, which makes him extra excited about this year’s trip.
McCaffery’s in-laws have been coming to Cayman for 30 years, and the coach came down to Seven Mile Beach for a family vacation in 2008. Now, he’s taking his team to follow in his footprints.
“It’s really breathtakingly beautiful,” McCaffery said of his prior experience on Grand Cayman. “It’s really one of the finest places I’ve ever been for vacation. The people are really friendly. The beaches are pristine. The water is clear. The temperature is perfect. It’s everything that you want.”
Does that present a challenge? Will McCaffery have to work overtime to get his team out of the water?
“It’s a tough thing because we’ve got to be locked in,” he said. “There’s a lot of meetings and there’s practice shootarounds and game preparation. But you also want them to have a little bit of fun. There’s a fine line between how much fun and too much fun. We’ll give them a little bit of time to enjoy the beach, but you certainly can’t be out there swimming on game day. We’ll be locked in for that.”
The most arduous journey is arguably for the University of Wyoming, which will have to travel more than 2,000 miles to play in the tournament. Wyoming coach Allen Edwards planned to have his team stay overnight in Charlotte, North Carolina, before taking the next leg of its journey and landing in Cayman.
Edwards, a two-time national champion during his playing career at the University of Kentucky, is a little stricter about wanting his players to focus on the task at hand. Wyoming played in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas last year, giving them a template for how to approach Cayman.
“I’m sure every program approaches it the same way. It’s a business trip at the end of the day,” he said. “At the same time, am I sitting there trying to not have my guys enjoy this experience? No, I’m not going that far. But we’re not going to be on the beaches having a great time. I want them to experience it, but at the same time, we’re there on a business trip. … We don’t want them locked up in rooms either.”