Offshore tournaments return to college basketball amid COVID-19 | Sports

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) – Kimani Lawrence and her Arizona State teammates were eager to take it all in when they arrived for a men’s college basketball tournament which was among the countless things disrupted amid the pandemic COVID-19 in the past 18 months.

Just being here is big business, both for the eight teams at this week’s prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis and for a sport that has made a tradition of playing early season games off the coast of the United States. .

This is a milestone with the return of many events in this Caribbean nation of around 700 islands to the Cancun Challenge in Mexico and the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands.

“A year ago I didn’t think we could ever get back here as quickly as we did,” said Lawrence, whose team has had to deal with multiple breaks and cancellations due to the pandemic. .

Now Atlantis players are hitting the waterslides, relaxing by the resort’s many pools, and heading to restaurants a year after players were largely locked in hotel rooms – separated from each other. others during meals, even – on trips to the United States and during the NCAA Tournaments Bubbles in Indiana and Texas.

“Last year a ton of kids were transferred because they were isolated and depressed,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “And they were just students, wanting to go to class, wanting to interact socially, wanting to be able to travel and play in front of fans.

“So we survived it. And now, hopefully this year we’re in a much more normal situation and the student-athletes will benefit the most. “

The Battle 4 Atlantis begins Wednesday with Baylor, sixth and defending national champion, the Pearl Tigers, 19th and No.22 from Connecticut. It’s coming back from a hiatus in 2020 for its 10th edition and begins two days after the first female Battle 4 Atlantis got its 1 v 2 title clash between South Carolina and UConn.

There are also events at the nearby resort town of Baha Mar in Nassau, with headlining women’s matches featuring Maryland’s No.2, Indiana No.4, Indiana No.5. the State of North Carolina and No. 7 from Stanford. And Arizona’s No.9 starts playing on Thanksgiving Day in the Women’s Paradise Jam.

“It’s an incredible team-building experience,” Bears coach Scott Drew told the AP. “There’s something to say when you leave the United States and then you’re in the Bahamas or wherever… you get closer, you spend more time together. But obviously you are going through things that you don’t normally experience.

However, things have not completely returned to normal. The Maui Invitational in Hawaii offers an encore; this tradition-rich tournament is taking place in Las Vegas this week after taking place in Asheville, North Carolina last year due to lingering issues related to COVID-19.

Walker Kessler was a freshman at UNC last year when the Tar Heels trip to Maui ended up being a stage trip to the mountains. Now he’s here in the Bahamas as a transfer with Auburn.

“Going on that trip was so much fun – being able to fly, go with your teammates and stay at the hotel, and just be in a place like this and a tournament like this,” Kessler said, adding: “We are super, super excited for some normalcy for sure.

Visitors entering the Bahamas had to produce negative COVID-19 tests, and teams wear masks inside the Atlantis complex. Lea Miller-Tooley, founder and director of Atlantis tournaments, said she stays in direct contact with all 16 head coaches from both tournaments about security protocols to restart one event and start another.

It also included the involvement of Atlantis President and CEO Audrey Oswell, saying there was “some confidence involved”, although she admitted to feeling anxious.

Now? Miller-Tooley said people were “happy to get their passports stamped.”

“There’s a risk in everything, but the reward so far outweighs the risk,” Miller-Tooley said. “We felt and still do, with the men’s teams arriving this week, we are very confident about the protocols in place and everything we have done to ensure safety and planning.”

The completion of the women’s tournament offered the first glimpses of normalcy, to some extent.

Oklahoma team swam with dolphins. Oregon’s No.15 players took a few rays at one of the resort’s many pools. The teams gathered in the lobby of their tower hotel to walk to the Imperial Arena, passing masked resort guests on the store-lined road to practices and games.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, whose top-ranked team won the title, was on the march his dog Champ around the marina and shyly admitted to shopping. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said he would not hesitate to “take advantage of all their hospitality” because of his vaccinated status. And there was a buzz in the arena for the Gamecocks-Huskies title.

The hope is that this is only the start of the pandemic’s return.

“There’s no reason to come to the Bahamas if you’re not going to enjoy the Bahamas,” Ducks forward Sedona Prince told the AP. “So we were able to actually do things and go out and kind of be a team, and take pictures and videos and memories. … They hosted the tournament here for the enjoyment of the players, family and coaches. So yes, we did.

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