V.I. men's hoops team begins Centrobasket today
Published: June 18, 2012
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The U.S. Virgin Islands senior men's basketball team wants to prove last summer was not a fluke.
The team will get its chance today when its tips off at the 2012 Centrobasket Senior Men's Championship in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
There are four preliminary games scheduled during the next five days as the USVI will start against Mexico at 6 p.m. today. Jamaica awaits Tuesday, and then Costa Rica on Wednesday. After a match-up with the Dominican Republic on Friday, the semifinal and final rounds are slated for this weekend.
The other group includes host Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Cuba, Panama and Nicaragua.
"Mexico right off the bat and then Jamaica - yeah, we have our work cut out for us," said USVI coach Milton Barnes, who is also a regional scout for the Minnesota Timberwolves. "Both of those teams are loaded with professional players who are already established in the NBA or overseas."
With some veteran leadership mixed in with college talent, the USVI put together a 5-0 record and won the Caribbean Basketball Confederation Championships in the Bahamas last July. It was the team's first CBC crown since 2002 and it qualified the USVI for this weekend's tourney.
But the Centrobasket Championship attracts some of the big boys and will present a bigger challenge.
"We have a number of guys back from that team, but we also have a few key guys missing," Barnes said. "Guys like Cuthbert Victor and Kevin Sheppard have been a part of this team for the last 10 years, but we have to make due. We have to continue on and play the best we can without them."
Victor is missing the tournament because his brother is getting married this week and Barnes said Sheppard has unofficially retired from playing at the international level. Sheppard, who took over the St. Croix Educational Complex program last year, is more focused on coaching these days and working in the community.
Some top players back include point guard Walter Hodge, who has led the team in scoring on several occasions, and Jason Edwin, another experienced player at the international level. Ivan Aska III is also back after he helped lead the team last summer.
Jaja Richards and Kitwana Rhymer will bring leadership to the USVI frontcourt, while Phillip Jones and Gregory Washington are both 6-foot-10 or taller.
"And I'm really excited about some of the new guys," Barnes said. "Jason's little brother, Deon, is really something special and can become a very good player for us soon. Aaron Brown is still in college and has made a strong leap to the senior team."
If the USVI is successful, it would head to the Tournament of Americas in July, which would bring the team a step closer to an Olympic qualification.
- Contact sports writer Aaron Gray at 714-9102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.