Jamaica Classic wants to lure the best, but...

Observer writer

Monday, December 03, 2018

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ROSE HALL, St James – After facing scepticism in their first staging of the Jamaica Classic men's NCAA basketball tournament at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in 2017, organisers could soon have to reject teams as the event is no longer a secret.

In the first year, Jacob Ridenhour, executive director of Jamaica Classic, said they were able to encourage seven schools, including nationally ranked Florida State University (FSU) to make the initial trek, and after getting eight this year, including former NCAA Division 1 champions Georgetown University and national powerhouse Loyola Marymount University, it might not be long before bigger named schools will be taking part in the event held in November.

“This is a great example of how much traction this tournament has got,” Ridenhour told the Jamaica Observer on the final day of the three-day event recently. “Last year we were talking to South Florida, but they were hesitant; there were questions about hotels, proximity to the courts and how good the courts are, all these little things, reasonable things,” he said.

Ridenhour said while the tournament was still going on in 2017, “we were getting calls from teams who were interested in coming here to Montego Bay and we had not even completed the tournament yet”.

Next year, he said, more marquee names are expected to come forward, but Ridenhour did not wish to disclose some of these institutions as discussions were still early, but said significant adjustments would have to be made with an expansion.

“We will have to put in more seats in this place as well as put in a fully operational media centre to accommodate the traffic that we anticipate we will have,” he noted.

It's not all smooth sailing, and Ridenhour admitted that there are still teething pains associated with the young tournament.

“There are still some difficulties to come here for a handful of reasons... people have already made long-term commitments to other established tournaments... the good news is every person that has been here, the players and the coaches all give great marks,” Ridenhour said.

It's not just the coaches and the players who have put the stamp of approval on the tournament, he says, but also officials, who have been involved in a bidding war to get the assignments.

“All three officials that took part in the final game on Friday's first day, have officiated in the national championships, so we are talking about the very best in the sport. Last year, no one wanted to come, but those who did make the trip had such a great time they wanted to return,” said Ridenhour.

He said he could not have done what he has without his staff, all of whom he said were here working for free.

“Yes it's a nice trip to Jamaica in November, but we work very hard every day we are here. As soon as the last game is played, we start breaking down the equipment. Last year we worked until 3:00 am Monday morning. This year we have staggered things a bit, some got breaks Saturday the second day and some are staying until Tuesday so they can get some rest but they earned it,” Ridenhour ended.

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