BLOG: ‘Cats trip to USVI involved more than basketball

Nicole Smith

Excuse me while I try to quell my excitement. Not only am I home in the Virgin Islands, but I also get to go to see the ‘Nova basketball team play – for free. This kind of makes me feel better about missing the camp-out back on campus, but not much. What brings the Wildcats to the Virgin Islands is the Paradise Jam, an annual college basketball tournament on the island of Saint Thomas (my home). Eight college teams came down to participate this year, including Alabama, Toledo, Virginia Commonwealth and Middle Tennessee State.

Overall, in the tournament and out, the three senior captains proved that they deserved their positions. Mike Nardi had three great games, stepping up as captain. I was listening to my fellow locals in the crowd as Nardi took them by surprise. I guess they believe the “white boys can’t jump” rule, but Nardi is an exception.

Curtis Sumpter was back on the court, and I was excited to see him make his comeback. I have a lot of faith in his skill and his talent was showcased throughout the tournament.

I have to say that my favorite player is Will Sheridan – and not just because of his playing ability. I watched as he boosted team spirit while sitting on the bench. They may have only been quick breathers for him, but they were enough to boost the morale of the players and the fans.

I stuck around after the first game to talk to the players about being in Saint Thomas. The consensus was that the island is beautiful, but they wish they could have a little more time to be tourists. However, if anyone on the basketball team thought they were coming to Saint Thomas for vacation, they were wrong. Coach Jay Wright made it very clear that the boys were here for business.

When the team did have a chance to see the sights, they chartered a boat out to neighboring Buck Island, which is famous for its snorkeling. I was told that many of the players were hesitant about getting in the water, let alone go swimming with the fish, but those who did enjoyed it.

On Sunday morning, University President the Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., celebrated Mass, and there was a brunch for alumni who either live on St. Thomas or traveled with the team for the tournament. It was there that I met Wright himself, and I have to say that the great persona you saw during orientation for the freshmen and at Hoops Mania for everyone else is no façade. Wright is a nice man with a snazzy sense of fashion on the court.

He introduced each player to the alumni and said great things about them, which proved to me that Wright cares about each individual on that team. He was nice enough to grant me a short photo session with the team later that afternoon where I was able to get in a few laughs with the guys. For a team with such a great track record, each player is down-to-earth and happy to be doing what he loves. After the tide came in and the players got wet, I got the team and coaches to show their V.I. signs. The team then headed back to its hotel for a quick rest before the game later that night.

I will say that a couple of the players asked me why it is so hot here in Saint Thomas, and it appeared to me that they didn’t like the sand very much. It took a little bit of coaxing to get the whole team out on the beach for the photo. I also had to inform some of them that the sharks tend to come into shallow waters to feed in the evenings, which received a lively response. However, they have all been great sports and I am thankful for their decision to play here. I am proud to support and represent the Wildcats, and I hope they come back next year.