Harold Lingard only has time to catch a little bit of basketball during the daytime hours, squeezing it in during his lunch hour, but he still bought a pass to this week’s Cayman Islands Classic basketball tournament. The quality of play is that good, he said, and as a former North Carolina resident, he’s a big Clemson University fan.

On Monday, he was enjoying the second half of a hard-fought game between Clemson and the University of Akron in the John Gray High School gym along with about 300 other spectators.

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“This is huge,” Mr. Lingard said of the eight-team college tournament, now in its second year. “This is something Cayman has been aspiring to do for years. Cayman couldn’t have asked for a better product.”

The tournament tipped off Monday morning and continues until Wednesday evening.

Tournament director Maury Hanks said the success of last year’s event helped sell it to some of the teams that signed up this year.

“The coaches [from last year] talked to the coaches this year about how easy the travel is, how nice the gym is and the hotels, and the friendliness of the people here,” Mr. Hanks said.

He said he’s pleased with the way the tournament is progressing from an international perspective.

Locally, coach Victor “Voot” O’Garro, president of Caymax Sports, said he was hoping for a bit more interest.

“It’s a better response [than last year],” he said, “but not as good as I’d like it to be.”

“What we have seen,” he added, “is a positive impact on the school children.”

He estimated the tournament has increased interest among young players on the island by as much as 25 percent.

Having local athletes see the caliber of play the tournament brings, he said, “makes coaching easier. They realize you have to work hard.”

Mr. O’Garro said there are 17 Cayman basketball players who are currently on a college or university team overseas.

“My big dream is to see a Cayman player playing on one of the teams coming to the tournament,” he said.

Clemson player Elijah Thomas goes up for a shot against Akron during the first game of the Cayman Islands Classic basketball tournament, which got under way Monday at the John Gray High School gym. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

The tournament concludes with the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. In addition to Clemson and Akron, this year’s teams include Creighton, Georgia State, St. Bonaventure, Georgia, Boise State and Illinois State.

Sitting courtside in a red Illinois State T-shirt was none other than Santa Claus, fresh from his appearance at Camana Bay’s tree lighting ceremony on Saturday. He said he had forged a bond with the school during an earlier part of his life.

“Santa doesn’t have a favorite team,” he insisted. “I’m kind of reluctant to wear this Illinois State shirt, but I can’t help myself.”

An admitted sports fan, he was enjoying the great basketball play during his time in Cayman, visiting with groups of school children during the halftime period. No one plays the game at the North Pole, he said.

“The elves are too short,” he said. “They can’t dunk it.”

The tournament also attracted Minister of Sports Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. The ministry invested $90,000 in the tournament, she said, as a way to boost tourism and potentially inspire young athletes.

“It’s a treat to get some wholesome sports activity,” said Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, who said she’s a fan herself. “I’m a Miami Heat girl.”

A sizeable number of Akron and Clemson fans raised the noise level in the gym, cheering for their respective teams. The opening game of the tournament was closer than many had anticipated. Akron led at one point in the first half before Clemson pulled away during the second half. But Akron came back at the end to finish just one long basket short. The final score was 72-69.

Schoolchildren attending the Cayman Classic hang out with Santa, who swapped his red and white Christmas outfit for an Illinois State Redbirds T-shirt. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Clemson fan Virginia Brewer was hoping the team would play well for the rest of the tournament. She has traveled the world watching the team play, attending tournaments in Italy and Spain. She and her husband make the 5½ hour drive from their Rocky Mount home to Clemson, South Carolina, for most of the home games, she said. This is her first time in Cayman.

None of the hotel televisions had the Clemson football game on Saturday when the Brewers and other boosters arrived. They ended up at Legends. Ms. Brewer said she enjoyed the restaurant, as well as a visit to Calico Jack’s. She said the group was trying to decide on other activities for the week.

“We’re debating whether the stingrays will creep us out or not,” she said, of a potential trip to Stingray City.

Diane McMaster-Perry is just as diehard of a fan, but roots for Akron, the school she graduated from in 1978. She estimates she attends 95 percent of Akron’s home games, as well as some away games, and was voted “Fan of the Year” three years ago.

She vacationed in Cayman in 2000 and said she was enjoying her second visit.

“I love the snorkeling here,” she said. “We’re going to go snorkeling today and we have an organized trip tomorrow.” But her focus will be on the team. “I hope to win two out of three games for sure,” she said.

Tournament game tickets start at $50 and are available at www.caymanislandsclassic.com.

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