When Jerel Drew joined the University of the Virgin Islands as its new athletics director nearly a year ago, he had some big plans in mind to upgrade the school’s athletics program.
One of those ideas will come to fruition in early November, when UVI plays host to the inaugural Virgin Islands HBCU Basketball Classic.
The HBCU Basketball Classic, scheduled for Nov. 3-5 at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas, will involve men’s and women’s college basketball teams from UVI and four other stateside National Associated of Intercollegiate Athletics-affiliated schools, most of them Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
“We just had to make sure we had everything in place to move forward with it,” said Drew, who joined UVI on Sept. 1, 2020, two months before the school announced the cancellation of its 2020-2021 athletics schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The concept was there. We just had to make sure we had a collection of other institutions that felt the same, and creating a safe environment.”
Taking part in the three-day tournament will be teams from Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Ark.; Hutson-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas; Warner University in Lake Wales, Fla.; and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. All but Warner are HBCUs.
“It was relatively easy” to attract teams to play in the HBCU Basketball Classic, Drew said. “The selling point was just an opportunity to begin something that’s very unique. There’s a lot of ‘Classics,’ but we think ours will have some unique perspectives.”
The HBCU Basketball Classic — the showcase event of the Buccaneers’ 2021 Homecoming week — will mark the return to action for nearly all of the teams taking part in the tournament, except for Warner University.
The Royals were among a group of NAIA teams that saw action during the 2020-2021 season, with its men’s team finishing 19-7 after advancing to the second round of the NAIA National Championships tournament in Kansas City, Mo. Warner’s women’s team finished 7-21.
As part of the HBCU Basketball Classic, each day of the tournament will feature a theme — Bucs Night on Nov. 3 will honor former and current UVI athletes, culminating in a Hall of Fame induction ceremony; USVI High School Night on Nov. 4, with free admission for all local high school students, and enrollment application booths available for all participating schools; and HBCU Greek Night on Nov. 5, with all former and current sorority and fraternity students recognized.
Drew said UVI — both the Athletics Department in putting together the Classic, and the university as a whole — had worked closely with the V.I. Health Department to put protocols in place to deal with COVID-19.
“There’s things the [university] has set in place,” Drew said. “We’re just trying to make sure we have everything where we need to have it, in order to be able to move forward.”
Drew said that as the months move along, more of UVI’s intercollegiate sports programs — men’s and women’s cross country and track and field, for example — will get going as well.
“You’ll start seeing some of the other sports” begin their schedules, Drew said. “As we move forward, one of the biggest things is making sure that we have all the precautions in place as far as COVID. We want to make sure we’re able to move forward in the proper manner. We want to keep our students safe; student safety is always our No. 1 priority.”
The HBCU Basketball Classic is just the latest in a number of changes that have come to UVI’s athletics program since Drew came on the job. Earlier this year, the school announced new branding and a footwear-and-apparel deal with Adidas, and will soon unveil its new athletics website, which also includes a mobile app.
“It’s very exciting, and I’m looking forward to it,” Drew said. “We’ve had a lot of things happening with the new branding, new logo and everything. We’re happy that we’re able to move forward, and have something exciting for our students and alums. … There’s no better time to do this than Homecoming week to have this.”