To the fans of the University of the Virgin Islands basketball teams, it almost feels like it’s been a thousand days since the Buccaneers have been on the court for an official game.
However, UVI’s long wait finally comes to an end tonight when the Buccaneers’ men’s and women’s teams play their first games in a doubleheader against Morris College in Sumter, S.C.
UVI’s women take on the Hornets at 6 p.m. today, followed by the men’s game at 8 p.m. The two teams will play again Saturday, at 2 p.m. for the women and 4 p.m. for the men.
“It means a lot, being able to play for UVI,” said sophomore guard Shirmoy O’Garro, a St. Thomas native who last played in high school at Charlotte Amalie High. “To be honest, in the Virgin Islands, after high school basketball is kinda finished if you’re not going to college.
“Not many people get to play college ball on the islands, so it’s a big opportunity being from here and getting to play college ball here.”
While it hasn’t been a thousand days since the Buccaneers’ last games, it’s pretty close.
UVI’s men last played an official game on Feb. 15, 2020, suffering a 66-59 loss to College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. That’s a span of 622 days, or 1 year, 8 months and 14 days.
The Buccaneers’ last home game at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas was Feb. 8, 2000, a 72-54 Senior Night victory over the University of Puerto Rico-Carolina — a span of 630 days.
“I think these guys are excited about being in the arena, and just trying to put a great product out on the floor for the community to enjoy,” said first-year Buccaneers’ men’s coach Alfonzo Duncan.
Duncan took over as UVI’s men’s coach in November, not too long before college officials put a hold on the 2020-2021 season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which made traveling stateside — and having stateside teams travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands — problematic.
But that gave Duncan time to recruit players, especially from the Caribbean. Of the Buccaneers’ 10-man roster, four — O’Garro, freshman guard-forward Denny Gonzalez, who graduated from St. Thomas’ All Saints Cathedral School; freshman center Ali Palmer, who went to school in Grenada; and sophomore center LiWayne Richardson, who went to school in Anguilla before spending a year at Howard University — are from the region.
“This is a very, very unique bunch that we have here,” Duncan said. “We’re trying to teach basketball to young men that are literally all over the world.
“We are a collective bunch that have come together with one common goal — to win.”
It’s been even longer since the Buccaneers’ women have played an official game — 623 days. UVI’s women’s last game was Feb. 15, 2020, a 56-42 loss to Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C.
UVI’s women’s last home game was Feb. 3, 2000 — 633 days ago — a 69-53 victory over Atlanta’s Carver College.
“I’m expecting this team to be the biggest, the greatest, representation UVI’s ever had,” said first-year Buccaneers’ women’s coach Lynika “Niki” Collins. “We’re going to put on a show, we’re definitely going to go hard, for sure.”
Collins, who was hired in July to replace Jackson Dolor, had less time to put her team together — only one player, freshman guard Kaya Evans, who was born on St. Thomas, returned from the group that Dolor had assembled for the 2020-2021 season.
But Collins was able to put together an eight-player squad that has a mix of experience — four players are college transfers, with two coming from NCAA Division 1 programs: 6-foot-1 junior center Kaeani Berry, who played at Alabama State; and guard Amber Appiah-Kubi, a grad student transfer from Tennessee State.
“A lot of these young ladies have never played college basketball before,” said Collins, who spent seven years as an assistant and head coach at Southern University-New Orleans. “My style of coaching is going to expose players. If you work, if you’re in the gym multiple hours a day, you’re going to see it. If you’re not able to get up and down the floor, you’re not going to fit.”