Caribbean Tip-Off Classic soaks up spotlight

By RENALDO DORSETT

Tribune Sports Reporter

rdorsett@tribunemedia.net

THE first Caribbean Tip-Off Classic gave some of the country's top basketball players at the prep level an opportunity to return home and showcase their skills against some of the best in international and local talent.

Three days of nearly nonstop play between 15 teams concluded last night at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.

Brewster Academy (New Hampsire, USA) featured Kai Jones, BC Christian Academy (British Colombia, Canada) featured Sammy Hunter, Leroy Adderley and Deante Dean, while Redemption Christian Academy(New York, USA) was led by Bahamian head coach Tristian Wilchcombe and featured Makarious Russell.

Other visiting teams include defending national champions Putnam Science Academy (Connecticut, USA), St Thomas Moore (Connecticut, USA), Ridley College Prep (Ontario, Canada), Rise Prep (Ontario, Canada), Crestwood College Prep (Ontario, Canada) and Helsinki Basketball Academy (Finland).

Local Bahamian teams included St. George's and Tabernacle Baptist out of Grand Bahama along with Anatol Rodgers, St. Augustine's and CI Gibson.

Jones, a consensus four-star recruit and Texas Longhorns commit, averaged 12.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game over the course of the event.

"It feels good to be back, the past three days have been sensational, I love playing with these guys and I'm glad we got all of our wins" he said, "It's always great to play here and have this reminder. This is where I'm from where I'm born and raised, this is where I put in so much work in the gym and just being able to come here and show what I've been working on has been awesome."

Hunter, who recently committed to the Ole Miss Rebels, averaged 33 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

"It was good just to be able to get to play in front of family and friends. Everybody knows I'm an Ole Miss recruit so they try to go at me every time, but I don't have a problem with that it makes me go harder, it brings out the fire in," he said, "I'm still working on working on rebounding both sides of the ball, tightening up my handle and my jump shot, but this was just another great experience to set up the rest of the year. This showcase, it's good because it, shows that Bahamian basketball players can play with anyone. Basketball is universal, all we need is an opportunity."

Wilchcombe, a former student at St. John's College, has used his platform as the head coach at Redemption to establish a pipeline for Bahamian students with the skillset to compete at an elite level.

"This weekend was a great experience, great opportunity, leaving when I was 16 I didn't have this exposure and to be able to bring this type of event back to the Bahamas and for me to come back here was a blessing," he said, "I think basketball in the Bahamas is at an all-time high. At this event there were multiple NBA teams, multiple college coaches' and they're talking about this event being bigger next year. To have guys like Kai and Sammy come back here and play at home at this level is amazing and I hope we continue to take advantage of that."

The Caribbean Tip-Off Classic was presented by the Bahamas Basketball Federation, Caribbean Sports Travel and the Courtyard Marriott Hotel.

Steve Barnes, who has served as Technical Director of the BBF for six years, heads Caribbean Sports Travel.

"There's a lot of work to be done. It's still in the early stages but we're also gaining ground. There's a huge opportunity right now to brand Bahamas basketball and put it in the world stage. This concept came from just coming down and speaking to the people on the ground. People come in from the outside, make their money and leave but I never saw any local development being done. We thought there really was a place for us here and we could do a lot of different things. Our relationships were built with the people here and we wanted to be able to give back to the community. With everything we do, start with a Bahamian base and stay with that philosophy. We have several events planned and it was really important for us to do this first class and do this right," Barnes said, "I want it to become tied in with education and balance what these guys do on the court, with being able to qualify off the court. We can provide the exposure and opportunities bringing the coaches and scouts down, but you have to do your job in the classroom in preparing."