In 2011, the inaugural “Battle 4 Atlantis” college basketball tournament took place in Nassau, The Bahamas.
The event is credited by some in the basketball community as a major contributor to the sport’s popularity in the country, and six years later Bahamians are watching their fellow countryman – Arizona Wildcats freshman and NBA draft prospect Deandre Ayton – compete in front of them this week at the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis.
Organizers for the Cayman Islands Classic hope that their holiday tournament will have a similar success story in the years to come.
“When young Caymanians see this level of basketball, they have a mental picture of what it takes,” said Victor O’Garro, president of Caymax Sports Ltd., the company that hosted the three-day tournament. “We are hoping [that in] the near future, we will see a young Caymanian at a Division 1 level coming here.”
Young Cayman ballplayers indeed had a chance to see some of the top National Collegiate Athletic Association athletes, including players from the nationally ranked Cincinnati Bearcats.
As the only ranked team in the Cayman Islands Classic, Cincinnati was heavily favored to win the territory’s inaugural college basketball tournament.
The No. 12 Bearcats (6-0) lived up to the hype on Wednesday night, romping their way to a 78-53 victory in the championship game against the Wyoming Cowboys (4-1).
Cincinnati’s taller players were smothering on defense, not allowing a point until Cowboys senior guard Louis Adams sunk a pair of free throws at the 13:44 mark in the first half. By the time Adams sunk the team’s first field goal at the halfway point of the first half, Cincinnati led 20-4.
The Cowboys were also without one of their better players, preseason all-Mountain West guard Justin James, who did not play after leaving with a bloody nose in the team’s win over Louisiana on Tuesday.
Sitting with the championship trophy in front of him after the game, the businesslike demeanor of Bearcats forward Kyle Washington reflected the fact that his team expected nothing less than a title.
“It’s an accomplishment, but we want to keep on going,” said Washington, who scored 16 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in the final game. “We’re not being disrespectful, but we have our eyes on winning the [American Athletic Conference].”
Regardless of the competition, Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said playing in a competitive architecture brought out the best in many of his players, including tournament MVP Gary Clark, who scored 17 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in the championship game.
“It was like watching him come into his own in front of your eyes,” Cronin said of the senior forward. “What’s great about it was his aggressiveness. It’s been four years, and I keep trying to get him to get that look in his eye. People can’t stop him.”
The semifinals between the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns and the Richmond Spiders was a much closer game, with the Ragin’ Cajuns eking out an 82-76 victory in a game that was not decided until the end.
The Spiders led from the first half until there was 13:44 left in the second half.
Four turnovers down the stretch, including a five-second violation and a technical foul on Spiders coach Chris Mooney, sealed the deal for Louisiana.