Sports

BBF reportedly set to pull team from Olympic qualifier

In a little over a month, The Bahamas was set to continue a journey that foreshadowed a promising future – the country’s first-ever spot in the Olympics in a team sport.

The Bahamas’ senior men’s national basketball team is scheduled to play in the second window of the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers – February 26 and 27 at the Palacio de los Deportes in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. However, it was reported yesterday that citing a lack of funding, the Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) plans to withdraw the team from the FIBA World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers.

The qualifiers represent the final opportunity for The Bahamas to reach the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France, in basketball and, with its biggest collection of 

professional players in history in tow, this latest chance to qualify was regarded as the best in Bahamian history. A trio of top-level Bahamian players, with full Bahamian eligibility status, play in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States – the gold standard for basketball leagues around the world.

Additionally, dozens of Bahamian basketball players suit up in various professional leagues around the world.

One of those top-level Bahamian basketball players, Chavano “Buddy” Hield of the Sacramento Kings in the NBA, voiced his displeasure on social media yesterday.

“Bro they wilding,” he said in one post. In another, he said, “This is our best chance to ever make the Olympics. lol. I see why Jonquel do what she had to do…”

Each window of the qualifiers run the federation into about $50-$60,000, according to BBF President Eugene Horton. It appears controversial not investing that money for the February window, particularly after it was revealed that one million dollars was budgeted for sending a contingent to Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and reportedly another $300,000 spent on a subpar virtual Junkanoo production. Given those revelations, how can you justify not spending $50-$60,000 on a vital trip for Olympic qualification?

Horton said he has the utmost confidence in Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg, the immediate past BBF president, and that he is doing all that he can to assist the progress of basketball in the country.

“The minister is a former basketball executive and I know he’s doing all he can do,” said Horton yesterday. “Also, we are putting together proposals, and so forth, to re-engage Baha Mar as well as other private sponsors. Hopefully, by this summer, we should have everything in place. We try not to go to the government for everything. We may have to do that but that’s not the plan. We are trying to put things in place to the point where we could be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely too heavily on the government.

“We have plans in place where we are stepping back, rebranding, and coming up with a way where we can generate funds. The problem is this particular window is right around the corner. We’re not shutting it down completely – we hope that by some miracle, something will happen and we could secure the funding.”

Baha Mar was the federation’s main sponsor but the contract between the two entities expired in 2019. Also, with Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19 wreaking havoc in the past two and a half years, funding at the national level has been limited.

“We thought we had secured some funding that didn’t come through. Also, because of COVID, the team’s expenses has increased drastically – there is testing at all levels,” said Horton. “When you look at it, to fly our best players in from all over the world is a challenge financially. Also, our main fundraiser, the ‘Summer of Thunder’, hasn’t happened in the last two years because of COVID. We’re optimistic but, at this moment, the funds aren’t there. What we’re trying to do is see if we can push the window back and play all of our games in the summer but we are trying to secure the funding and make this a non-issue.”

The Bahamas got off to a rough start in the qualifiers, losing to Canada emphatically in two games, falling 115-73 and 113-77. However, the country only needs to finish in the top three of its group to qualify for the second round of qualifiers. The other two teams in the group are the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and the Dominican Republic (DR), and The Bahamas has been respectable against those two nations, in recent times.

In the past four years, The Bahamas has struggled mightily against Canada in senior men’s basketball, losing by an average of 37 points, but lost by an average of just nine points to the USVI during that span, and actually recorded a victory over the DR in their country.

The Bahamas was set to face the USVI on February 26 and the DR on February 27, both in the DR, in a “bubble” format to ensure the health and safety of all participants during the competition.

The senior men’s national team was strong during their play in the world cup pre-qualifiers in the summer of 2021, finishing with an unblemished 3-0 win/loss record. They took down Cuba, Costa Rica and host nation El Salvador in that mini tournament, and those performances put them just outside the top 50 in the world rankings – about as high as basketball in The Bahamas has ever been ranked globally.

In the pre-qualifiers, Travis Munnings led the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game. He shot 48.4 percent from the floor but just 18.2 percent from three-point range. Kentwan Smith was the next highest scorer for The Bahamas at 13.7 points per game. Smith shot 46.7 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep. Garvin Clarke added 12 points per game while shooting 40.6 from the field and 46.7 percent from three-point range.

However, the two losses to Canada brought The Bahamas down to number 62 in the FIBA World Rankings presented by Nike. The other countries in the group are ranked higher. Canada is at number 18, the DR is at number 20 and the USVI is ranked at number 54. The top three teams from the group will advance to the second round of the qualifiers and will join other teams to create two six-team groups.

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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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