Bahamas Hoopfest over Thanksgiving

In a view of bringing more exposure to women’s basketball here in New Providence, and by extension the entire Bahamas, thereby assisting with the progress and development of female basketball in the country, organizers of the 1st Bahamas Hoopfest Women’s Basketball Classic are looking for the event to provide a major boost for women’s basketball this Thanksgiving Day weekend.

The event, a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I women’s basketball tournament, is set for November 28-30 inside the New Providence Ballroom at the Baha Mar Resort. Much like the other major resort in The Bahamas with the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis, which is coincidentally also this weekend, Baha Mar has set up a makeshift basketball court in one of its ballrooms in line with NCAA standards to facilitate the high level basketball action.

A total of five games, featuring five teams, will be played from Thursday to Saturday. The teams are: Arkansas University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ball State University, Lehigh University and Fordham University. They will play two games each.

“We’re really excited about this event taking place,” said event co-founder Dr. Simeon Hinsey, a former assistant coach with the Arkansas Razorbacks women’s basketball program. “When this was initially announced, everyone was excited because everyone is looking forward to coming to The Bahamas. For the local community, we’re excited to see over 4,000 Bahamian young girls pack this place, cheering for the respective teams and seeing an opportunity of what they could one day become. We can’t wait to see a high level of women’s basketball right here in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

“It’s catching on. There are already several teams that are interested in coming down next year. Everyone wants to come to The Bahamas. With the landscape of women’s basketball, people are paying interest and raising money – they can now afford to do some of the things that the men’s teams are doing. The game of women’s basketball is expanding – more and more females are getting involved, coaching in professional leagues and other things like that. Female basketball is getting a lot of respect in The Bahamas, and I think an opportunity like this, The Bahamas is going to benefit in the long run from tons of females coming out.”

Co-Founder Marvin Henfield, who himself runs a girls development and empowerment program here in The Bahamas, and who will be launching a girls basketball league next summer, said he initially got the idea through his middle daughter wanting to get involved with the game and requesting more events and opportunities for female basketball in the country.

“The social impact of this event is going to be magnificent,” said Henfield. “The whole idea for this event is for girls to be able to inspire to reach the highest level in women’s basketball – to be able to achieve their dreams when they watch events like this event. They can walk out from the games believing that they could become like the ladies they see on the court. We really want to inspire our young women,” he added.

Creating the avenue for that, Henfield and his team have approached every government school here in New Providence, and some of the private schools as well, spreading their message and giving out tickets and free passes for the games. They have targeted teams in the New Providence Women’s Basketball Association (NPWBA) as well.

“An event like this could significantly impact the future of women’s basketball in the country,” he said. “Here it is the young female players could see something that they have never seen here in The Bahamas. Come out and watch some fantastic basketball.”

The event will get underway on Thanksgiving Day with Lehigh taking on Ball State at 4 p.m. There will be two games on Friday and two more on Saturday. Director General of the Ministry of Tourism Joy Jibrilu will be honored on Friday and one of The Bahamas’ only two professional women’s basketball players, Waltiea Rolle, will be honored on Saturday. Rolle is the first Bahamian to be drafted into the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The other Bahamian professional women’s basketball player is Jonquel Jones.

Rolle said she’s truly excited about this event because it allows young Bahamian females to see how they could progress and develop in the sport, and it inspires them.

“This is a big thing,” she said. “There are a lot of females out there who don’t really know what the next level consists of. I feel privileged because I used to be in their situation, and I want them to see that if I could do it, they could do it as well. A lot of these kids who will be coming to the games are inner city kids and I’m an inner city kid as well. I know what the struggle is and what I had to go through to get to the next level. For them to see that someone who used to be like them could make it to the top level, that’s a good thing.”

Rolle, a six-year veteran in the big leagues, is currently without a professional contract but said that her agent is working on that so she could continue her career.

The Baha Mar Resort is delving more and more into sports tourism, just hosting the first-ever Baha Mar Cup, a one-of-a-kind tennis fundraising event, and now branching off into women’s college basketball. Baha Mar President Graeme Davis said it’s a part of their social responsibility, and they are thrilled to assist.

“We look forward to supporting and partnering wherever we can toward the future of women’s basketball here in the country,” he said. “We’re certainly thrilled to welcome NCAA Division I basketball here to Baha Mar, and we’re pleased that we could do our part at this tragic time. It’s important to continue creating awareness for The Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. It’s important for us to let the travel community out there know that we are open for business. These kind of events help to create that awareness.

“These events generate room nights and they generate a tremendous amount of business to the economy here in The Bahamas. We’re doing our part in contributing to the economy and that’s helping in the recovery efforts. We’ll continue creating events to do that – to stimulate the economy here in The Bahamas. There will be more opportunities for teams that want to travel here to The Bahamas because of the proximity of The Bahamas to South Florida. This is a perfect location with the perfect setting, perfect hospitality and culture to produce more and more sports tourism events here in The Bahamas and we want to continue to do out part. We’re thrilled to be a part of it.”

The initial venue for the event, the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium, is currently in use as a refugee shelter for victims of Hurricane Dorian. With Baha Mar now on board, it is anticipated that the Bahamas Hoopfest Women’s Basketball Classic could be an annual event. Arkansas alone is expected to bring down a delegation of about 100 persons including the team and team personnel, flying direct on a private charter. They will be bringing in hurricane relief supplies as well.

Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) Secretary General Jurelle Mullings and Ministry of Tourism Deputy Director General Tommy Thompson offered their sentiments as well.

“On behalf of the federation, we are very pleased to be here and support the 1st Bahamas Hoopfest,” said Mullings. “I’m happy to see initiatives such as these taking off and the BBF is here to support these events in any capacity that we can. One of our objectives is to really develop a strong national program and initiatives such as these – being able to see the final product at the highest level – is what we want our young ladies to aspire to.”

Mullings, the national overseer of women’s basketball in the country, runs a girls basketball camp each summer and said something like this could only inspire the young ladies to stick with the game of basketball and have productive careers.

“This is extremely fulfilling. You could talk about the next level, but for them to come right in your backyard and to be able to watch what you’re aspiring to become, is beyond words,” she said. “We’ve already had so much success in women’s basketball. Over the years, I foresee us making it to the Olympics. The key is the under-17 team and what we have available to us. When you look at the development program that we are about to implement, it’s all about catching those players at the grassroots level while they are still young and fresh and just continuing to build.”

Thompson said on behalf of the Ministry of Tourism: “It’s a pleasure to welcome Hoopfest to the capital. Basketball in The Bahamas is on the move. There are a number of events going on. We want to congratulate the organizers and we look forward to a successful tournament. We expect this to grow from year to year and at tourism, we will certainly do our part.”

Co-Founder Hinsey said their intention is not to rival the Battle 4 Atlantis men’s collegiate basketball tournament event that will run concurrently at the Atlantis Resort.

“We knew that there were certain times during the year that you could do certain events. When we started to talk about it, we said that Thanksgiving is probably going to be the best time to do it,” he said. “There’s Battle 4 Atlantis, but we said we’re not really competing with the men’s event. If anything, we’re going to complement what the men’s event is doing. When we pitched the idea to the Ministry of Tourism, we said that the target audience for women’s basketball is completely different than the target audience for men’s basketball. We’re catering to female players but this is still going to be a family event. We’re excited to see where this thing goes and hopefully we could build on it. We’re looking for people to come out and support us.”

Overall, one of the main objectives of the event is to expand the development of girls basketball in The Commonwealth of The Bahamas and to continue to produce Bahamian professional women’s basketball players like Rolle and Jones, thereby inspiring the next generation of female players.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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