Caribbean Tip-Off Classic set for this weekend

Building on the success of the inaugural classic a year ago, organizers from the Bahamas Basketball Federation (BBF) are looking for the second version of the Caribbean Tip-Off Classic to really take off.

The tournament, featuring a number of elite high school and college prep basketball teams in the United States and Canada, will take place Friday to Sunday at Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road.

The international basketball showcase will once again feature teams from Brewster Academy out of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, USA; defending champions Putnam Science Academy out of Putnam, Connecticut, USA; Rise Academy from Margate, Florida, Ridley College from St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada; BC Christian Academy featuring four Bahamians out of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada; and Helsinki Basketball Academy from Helsinki, Finland. Added to that field of teams will be NBA (National Basketball Association) Academy Latin America based in Mexico City, Mexico; Northfield Mount Herman out of Gill, Massachusetts, USA; Hargrave Military Academy from Chatham, Virginia, USA; International Sports Academy from Willoughby, Ohio, USA; Orangeville Prep School out of Orangeville, Ontario, Canada; and two high school all-star teams from The Bahamas – one from New Providence and the other from Grand Bahama, Abaco and Bimini combined.

“We’re just expecting it to be better than it was a year ago,” said Steve Barnes, technical director of the federation. “Any time you have a chance to work on something and make it better, it makes good sense to go ahead and do that. With Mario and the federation becoming the main host of it, that adds some flavor to it and makes it better. The same level of teams are returning and also the same quality of players. Basically, there will be some future college stars and NBA guys out of this group, and other professional players.

“There are some great teams coming here. The federation has been unbelievable in taking this on and making it their event. We couldn’t do it without the host hotel Breezes. With their rates and sponsorship, they made it possible for us to host this. Also, the Catholic Board of Education has allowed us to use Loyola Hall because of Kendal Isaacs being occupied at this point. We’re grateful to them for their assistance.”

BBF President Mario Bowleg said on the event’s website that one of the primary functions of the federation is to promote and ensure the proper growth and development of basketball in The Bahamas, and this classic is a step in that direction.

“Preparing our players with solid fundamentals, making them attractive to college scouts is paramount,” he said. “For this reason, the tip-off classic is one event in particular that I am happy to host and to have coaches visit our island, which will bring great exposure to Bahamian players and others from the United States, Canada and other countries.”

The classic will be held from 9 a.m. to about 9 p.m. Friday to Sunday at Loyola Hall, shifting from the Kendal G.L. Isaacs National Gymnasium this year due to that facility being occupied by Hurricane Dorian victims from Grand Bahama and Abaco.

Already in town for the classic is the Helsinki Basketball Academy.

Also, the games will be streamed live on FloHoops, a branch of FloSports. The games will be accessible by foreign professional teams in the US, Canada, South America and Europe. A number of foreign coaches and scouts will be in The Bahamas for the classic as well.

“There will be a large audience for sure. Everyone will be watching this classic,” said Barnes. “It’s going to be helpful for not only the kids from the other teams, but also the local kids. There are some coaches who are following these guys, and some of the players are already committed to schools in the United States and Canada. Last year was an exceptional year and this year there is going to be some more Bahamian flavor with the all-star squads and the Bahamian connection at BC Christian. Overall, you might have about 25-30 Bahamians playing in this tournament and that’s great for the sport here in the country.”

Bahamian elite junior players Kai Jones and Samuel Hunter used the classic as a springboard into major National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I programs this fall. Jones is a freshman with the Texas Longhorns and Hunter signed on with the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) Rebels. This year, BC Christian boasts four Bahamian players – D’Ante Dean who previously played with the Prince William Falcons, Joshua Dames from Tabernacle Baptist Academy, Kendrick Russell from St. George’s High School and Bradley Lightbourne who was the Gateway Christian Academy Eagles’ leading scorer last season. Gateway is located in Bailey Town, Bimini.

Hunter played with the BC Christian Academy Panthers a year ago, and Jones suited up with the Brewster Academy Bobcats.

“On the last night a year ago, we put the local Bahamian kids on an all-star team and they played really well against those elite teams,” said Barnes. “This year, we are taking the top 12 or 13 guys from Nassau, and then another group from Freeport, Abaco and Bimini and putting them together. Some of the local high schools just didn’t have enough experience and depth, but with the all-star teams, at least the games will be competitive. Those are the guys who have the best opportunities for scholarships in any event. We feel good about their chances to play well in this classic, and hopefully get some college scholarships or professional offers.”

One of the top players from a year ago was American Jalen Lecque from Brewster Academy who is now a part of the Phoenix Suns organization. The 19-year-old undrafted NBA rookie guard was with the Suns through the preseason and the first three games of the regular season, and recently assigned to the North Arizona Suns of the NBA’s G-League – an affiliate of the Suns based in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

Tickets for the classic will cost $10 each for adults, and $3 each for children under the age of 17. There will be six games each day, and featured games each night. Also, there will be a Caribbean Tip-Off Classic All-Star Game on Saturday at 9 p.m.

The classic offers foreign teams a chance for excellent early season competition in The Bahamas

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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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