The U.S. Virgin Islands’ biggest annual sporting event will go on this fall — only it won’t go on in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Paradise Jam men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, will be played on the U.S. mainland this fall, tournament organizers confirmed Thursday.
According to Nels Hawkinson, executive director of Basketball Travelers Inc., the decision was made to hold this year’s Paradise Jam stateside was because of travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The men’s tournament was scheduled for Nov. 20-23, while the women’s tournament was set for Nov. 26-28. Both would have been played at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas.
“We were the last of all the tournaments to move,” Hawkinson said in a telephone interview. “We waited, but we just had to make the decision to move it off St. Thomas. But there are way too many issues that we can’t control — obviously, COVID[-19] being one. We don’t want to bring COVID to the island, we don’t want to get COVID while we’re there.”
The decision to relocate Paradise Jam stateside was also prompted by the NCAA’s decision Wednesday to push back the start of the Division I season from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25, as well as impose several requirements to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“The health protocols are very stringent to even have events here in the [United States],” Hawkinson said. “That’s why we made the decision to move it.”
Hawkinson said this year’s Paradise Jam tournaments will be held Nov. 26-28 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, a 2.3-million square foot facility in Washington, D.C., in a “bubble” format similar to what the NBA is using in restarting its season.
No spectators will be allowed, according to Hawkinson, and players, coaches and team and tournament staffs will all undergo frequent testing.
“They have some incredible health protocols,” Hawkinson said. “The plan is to have the men’s and women’s tournaments running simultaneously. We’ll have four courts available, so the teams will be able to practice and have courts available to play. All the testing will be done at the hotel … it’s really a lot involved.
“There’s been so many stops and starts. We’re just thankful and grateful that we found a location that can get both [tournaments] in at the same time.”
This is the second time in the past four years that the Paradise Jam tournaments have been held stateside. After hurricanes Irma and Maria heavily damaged the islands, the 2017 tournaments were held at Liberty University on the men’s side and split between George Washington University and Eastern Florida State College on the women’s.
However, Hawkinson said the lessons the Basketball Travelers staff learned from putting on that 2017 tournament were well used this time around.
“For us, there was a learning curve from that, which has actually helped us with this,” he said. “We learned to do things a little bit better and expediate things a little quicker.”
As for the tournament fields, Hawkinson said those may likely change, depending on what each individual conference decides about its teams playing non-conference games.
As part of the NCAA’s decision to push back the start of the season, it reduced the maximum number of regular-season games from 31 to 27, and the number of conference games needed for consideration to play in the NCAA Tournament from 25 to 13.
Currently, the field for the Paradise Jam men’s tournament has Arkansas-Little Rock, Bradley, Buffalo, Cleveland State, Florida International, Long Beach State, St. Bonaventure and Weber State.
On the women’s side, three-time winner Rutgers, a three-time Paradise Jam winner, is entered along with Clemson, DePaul, Fordham, Georgia, Kansas State, Pittsburgh and South Dakota.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to have a eight-team men’s tournament and an eight-team women’s tournament, but the teams are going to look different,” Hawkinson said. “As soon as the conferences announce what they’re doing — stay conference-only or allow non-conference games — then we can do something.
“Right now, every coach’s hands in America is tied, because they don’t know what they’re going to do.”