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Slam dunk!

Observer writer

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Following a successful staging of a preseason training camp by Florida State University (FSU) on their recent visit to the island, Jamaica's basketball is set for even bigger prospects later this year.

This comes in the form of the inaugural staging of the Jamaica Classic, which will see eight colleges from the United States of America compete over five days in what is expected to be the best basketball tournament ever staged in the country.

The competition will be staged in November at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

During their visit, FSU toured the island and played various teams before ending with two games against a Jamaica select team at the National Indoor Sports Centre earlier this week.

They won both games against the Jamaica select team, scoring over 100 points on both occasions.

Minister of Sports Olivia Grange, who was at the final game on Wednesday night, was delighted with the outcome of the FSU tour.

“This is a dream come true and I have been working on this idea for a long time. The last time I was minister, I attended a game and sat next to Michael Stern and was able to convince them to come to Jamaica to do preseason training,” Grange told the Jamaica Observer.

She added that the initiative failed to take off at that time due to the Tivoli incursion later that year. However, it was later revived by the FSU basketball team manager Jacob Ridenhour.

“So FSU is here in Jamaica for pre-season training, and then in November they come back with an additional seven college teams to have their tournament here. We will be live on CBS television in prime time to millions of viewers as a result of this and it is being done by my ministry in collaboration with the Jamaica Basketball Association (JABA) and the Ministry of Tourism,” Grange revealed.

She continued: “This is just the beginning of greater things to come. Next year we will see 16 teams, male and female, coming to Jamaica and this will be annually, and it will grow.

“Not only is it great for sports tourism but it is good for capacity building, because our teams get to play against some of the best players in the United States in college circuit and what it does, it gives them an opportunity to be exposed to the best and also to get world exposure.

The minister pointed out that this is in keeping with the thrust to grow sports tourism in the country, as she beamed about the possibility of Jamaica becoming the number one destination in the Caribbean.

“We will ensure that sports, along with culture and entertainment, continues to be at the centre of Brand Jamaica and will grow from strength to strength. We are going to upgrade and expand the Trelawny Stadium, which will be at the centre of sports tourism.

“We have the rooms in the tourist resort areas and we want to be able to bring visitors, as well as players, to Jamaica. I know that Jamaica, with the great climate and the warmth of its people, will become the centre of sports tourism in the Caribbean,” Grange noted.

For Mark Broomfield, president of the JABA, the move is a step in the right direction.

“We have been trying to rebuild basketball with certain specifics. We want to rebuild the fan base; we want to create opportunities for our referees, our coaches, and our players in terms of being exposed to top-level basketball, [and] we had that.

“We wanted to put on a great basketball event locally to bring back fans so that our players can be inspired and fans can be motivated — we were able to do that tonight (Wednesday night),” he explained.

Broomfield is optimistic that the successful tour will bring additional benefits from the association with FSU.

“We have had discussions with FSU where it would allow our coaches to go to Florida to be a part of their training camp, where they can learn.

“We have had discussions with FSU where they will bring other coaches so that we can have clinics, and that they will find places for our youngster who have done the schoolwork and have the skill sets, to help them find colleges and high schools in the United States,” he noted.

With colleges only allowed to tour outside of the country once every four years, Broomfield is hoping that FSU will be the conduit through which other US-based colleges will make Jamaica a home away from home during pre-season.

“We want to market the destination to other schools. [We want] FSU, being a top-ranked school in the United States, to be the voice for us. And the coaches and the players have given me the assurance that because they had such a great time, they are going to spread the word that Jamaica is a great place to have a tour or to have a competition,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Ridenhour explained some of the reasons behind the success of his team.

“The reason Florida State is the third-winning programme in the Atlantic Coast Conference over the last 12 years is because of our style of play. We defend you hard, make you work harder on offence, and then we have some more players coming right behind them.

“We have good players and some great players. Every player on our team is capable of making a pay cheque playing basketball — that's how good this team is,” Ridenhour declared.

He believes the high level of basketball that was on display during the tour would have inspired aspiring players.

“There is somebody in that audience tonight that's going to be a basketball player; he is going to get a scholarship. And the reason he is going to pursue basketball is because he watched the game and was inspired by it.

“This kind of exposure to the youth of Jamaica is where the value is, also there is a huge return on tourism,” Ridenhour ended.

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