Cayman Islands Classic attracts overseas, local supporters

For many basketball fans, the Cayman Islands Classic is a dream come true.
“I flew down to support Colorado State,” said Joe Cottingham, one of dozens of fans donning green and gold as he cheered on the Rams Monday in their first-round game with New Mexico State. Sitting nearby was Cade Simpson, another Rams fan who made the long journey from Fort Collins to the Caribbean.

“It’s so nice and sunny here, unlike Colorado, where it’s snowy,” Simpson. Aggies’ fan Tommy Hugh was a man of few words: “All I have to say is ‘Go NMS,’” he said, referring to New Mexico State University, who went on to qualify for the tournament’s title game. It’s the epitome of sports tourism – a destination typically seen on a postcard or ‘best beaches’ list now hosting a tournament of value to college basketball fans around the United States.

The University of Nebraska, Washington State University, New Mexico State University, Old Dominion University, George Mason University, the University of South Florida, Colorado State University and Loyola University Chicago brought in more than 100 players and coaches combined. Scores of fans, parents and boosters accompanied them.
While organisers said they didn’t have the exact number visitors who came for the three-day NCAA preseason basketball tournament, there’s no denying hundreds – if not thousands – of people arrived at Owen Roberts International Airport this week whom otherwise may not have.

Did you know? University of Nebraska basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg is the only coach participating at the 2019 NCAA Cayman Islands Classic who has coached in the NBA. Hoiberg led the Chicago Bulls from 2015 to 2018.

While the draw for fans is a chance to cheer on their team in a tropical location, the draw for locals is a chance to see top-tier college basketball in their own backyard. “I like basketball. I do it at my school, because I’m really good at it,” said Kimora Smith of the Lighthouse School. She was one of hundreds of students who packed the gym throughout the tournament to get a glimpse of Division I athletes in action.
“It’s nice to see people that you watch on TV in front of you,” said Lighthouse School’s Marion Wheatle.