The annual Paradise Jam college basketball tournaments, held annually in the U.S. Virgin Islands, began with a women’s tournament in 2000.
However, not only will Paradise Jam not be played in the USVI this fall, but there will be no women’s tournament as well.
Nels Hawkinson, executive director of tournament organizer Basketball Travelers Inc., confirmed to The Daily News that the women’s Paradise Jam had been canceled for this year due to restrictions imposed by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s tournament had already been moved from the University of the Virgin Islands’ Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. That necessitated a name change — this year’s event is called the 2020 DC Paradise Jam — with a four-team men’s field playing Nov. 26-28.
Signed up for the abbreviated men’s tournament are Belmont University, George Mason University, Howard University and Northeastern University.
“I don’t even know how to say this briefly, because it’s been months and months and months of work,” Hawkinson said in a telephone interview. “With the change of the college basketball season for men and women, all the teams had different ideas on how they wanted to start their season that were directed by their school, by their state and by their conference. No matter how hard we tried, it wasn’t going to make a difference — it just couldn’t be done.
“Some were facing dictates that they had to play at home the first week or two of games, or you had to play all your games at home until conference play started. It’s a crazy, unusual, bizarre time. It’s nothing we did wrong; we even tried to do everything right. It just could not absolutely happen.”
The plus side: However, Hawkinson said there was a plus side to the changes — with Paradise Jam returning to the USVI next year, the fields for both the men’s and women’s tournaments are nearly filled for the next two years. Most of the teams that had committed to Paradise Jam pre-COVID-19 have renewed their commitments for succeeding years, according to Hawkinson.
Before the coronavirus, the men’s Paradise Jam field was composed of Arkansas-Little Rock, Bradley, Buffalo, Cleveland State, Florida International, Long Beach State, St. Bonaventure and Weber State.
On the women’s side, the field had Rutgers, a three-time Paradise Jam winner, entered along with Clemson, DePaul, Fordham, Georgia, Kansas State, Pittsburgh and South Dakota.
“The beauty of that is those really good teams are now slated and repurposed to be in either 2021 or 2022,” Hawkinson said.
New TV deal: This year’s DC Paradise Jam will be shown on the ESPN networks, part of a three-year deal Basketball Travelers reached with the sports network.
According to Hawkinson, this year’s games will all be broadcast on ESPN3, the network’s web streaming service, while subsequent years tournaments could wind up on one of ESPN’s cable channels — ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPNEWS.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” Hawkinson said. “This is the first time this has happened in our 20-year history.”
The past three years, the Paradise Jam tournaments have been broadcast by FloSports, a web “pay-to-watch” streaming service that had drawn complaints over its quality.
Hawkinson said that because of the bumped-up network coverage, the V.I. Tourism Department is planning on an extensive advertising buy with ESPN.
“Tourism is putting together a pile of ads — dozens and dozens of ads during the six [game] broadcasts,” Hawkinson said.