Island Games champions looking for gold again

Cayman’s national team is gearing up to defend its title at the Island Games. – PHOTO: Alvaro Serey

They have tasted the ultimate success and they are hungry for more.

Cayman won the gold medal in men’s basketball for the first time at the last edition of the Island Games with relentless defence and an appetite for points in transition.

Now, two years later, they are ready for more and a team with a target on its back.

Cayman has been training four nights a week for the last few months, and coach Edwin Pellot-Rosa said they have sharpened their skills and competitive desire the old-fashioned way: With hard work.

“I’m at peace now, because I understand the work they’ve put in for 10 months,” he said. “I finally came to peace within the last week or so. We’ve been coming into the gym with the necessary focus and attention to detail that they’ll need to be gold medallists. I understand that you’re not really a true gold medallist until you can go and defend it. We’re trying to be certified gold medallists now.”

Most of Cayman’s players have played at the college level, and Pellot-Rosa said two of its youngsters are currently drawing attention from scouts at the NCAA’s Division I level. Cayman’s lone professional, Jorge Ebanks, is not available for this edition of the Island Games, but there’s a surplus of skill and energy.

The team started ramping up for the Island Games last October, and then training got tougher in January. Pellot-Rosa said the training went to an even higher level in May in preparation for the tournament, and now his players – even the young ones – are sharpened and ready for the challenge.

“I’m pretty hard on our new young point guards. They think I’m too hard,” he said. “Hey, they’ve got to get ready at a rapid rate now. We’re trying to get those guys on one of the teams that plays in the Cayman Islands Classic. Hopefully we can get them here playing in front of their home crowd.”

Cayman won the silver medal at the Island Games in 1999, 2001 and 2003, and that gave birth to a new generation that honed their skills at a high level in the United States. The current team’s captain, Samuel O’Garro, played at Eckerd College in Florida and later played professionally for two years in Germany.

“I think we’re ready,” he said of the Cayman team. “We have a young, talented squad coming up. There’s a lot of young guys with some experience there. I think that mesh is going to be really good.”

Kwei General skies for a dunk at a recent practice ahead of the Island Games. PHOTO: Alvaro Serey

Cayman ran through its paces Thursday night at John Gray High School, competing against the Under-19 team in offensive and defensive drills and working on their fitness. The team has what looks to be an easy group at the Island Games, facing the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man and Aland in pool play.

Pellot-Rosa’s team uses defence as it’s calling card, employing a full-court press and trying to get out and score on the fast break. That energetic style can be exhausting, but Cayman knows it’s important to make sacrifices and play every defensive possession as if it’s the one that will decide the game.

“We’re a small team, but we’ve got good legs,” said Kwei General. “We’re really fast. We’re energetic. We’re going to use that to our advantage and try to run the big guys out of the gym.”

General, Cayman’s co-captain, played at Vermont Technical College in the United States, and he said Thursday night that his teammates know how important it is to lock down on defence.

“Defence is everything,” he said. “That’s what won us the first one. We got a buzzer-beater block in the very first game and then we had a buzzer-beater block to win the championship. Patience, confidence and will. If we make sure we give it everything we’ve got, everything will come out good on our end.”

Voot O’Garro, the technical director of Cayman basketball, has his fingerprints all over the team.

He’s not just a former coach; he brought in Pellot-Rosa to coach the team, and Cayman’s current roster includes two of his sons and one of his grandsons. Cayman is hoping to star again on the Island Games stage, and if it does, Pellot-Rosa is totally prepared to share the credit with his predecessor.

“It’s no longer hoped that we win. It’s expected that we retain the gold medal,” he said. “Coach Voot blessed me with the opportunity to coach this team. When he goes out, I’ll make sure he’s remembered forever, that his name is a legend. I just want to repay him with hard work and gold medals.”