Tajama Abraham-Ngongba has spent the past two weeks getting the U.S. Virgin Islands’ senior women’s national basketball team ready for its biggest challenge of the year.
However, Mother Nature threw a small kink into the USVI National Team’s preparations for this weekend’s FIBA Women’s AmeriCup tournament, which begins today in San Juan.
Several of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ players were forced to evacuate their rooms at the Verdanza Hotel on Thursday morning, the result of heavy rainfall in Puerto Rico, especially in the San Juan area.
“We’re not talking like 1-2 [rooms] — we’re down like six rooms,” Abraham-Ngongba — the USVI National Team’s head coach — said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “I just know that we’re trying to get ready for practice in 30 minutes. All the girls that are flooded out of their rooms have had to migrate to a room that’s not flooded.
“This is crazy. It is raining buckets – its really windy, too; you’d think there’s a tropical storm going on outside. … We’re just waiting for [hotel management] to come give us an update.”
That’s just a small setback for the U.S. Virgin Islands — 49th in FIBA’s latest world rankings — which opens play today in Group A against No. 39 Colombia at San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum. Game time is 12:10 p.m. Atlantic.
“The girls are really … you can tell they’re excited,” said Abraham-Ngongba, who is also an assistant coach on Georgetown’s women’s basketball team. “There’s a lot of great energy in the gym. I was thinking, ‘Gosh, I wish we could just bottle this.’
“I think we’re prepared — we’re realistically going to have about 10 days of practice [total], and we’re having to manage pushing them and getting things in [practice], but we also remembering there’s a chance we’re gonna play seven games in nine days. We’re having to balance that out.”
The first step is against Colombia, which has played — and beaten — the U.S. Virgin Islands three times in international competition since 2017.
The USVI lost to the Colombians 70-63 in the 2017 FIBA Women’s AmeriCup, 67-55 in the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in 2018, and 69-66 in the 2019 Pan American Games.
“They pretty much have the same team coming back,” Abraham-Ngongba said. “I’ve looked at some of the past games … and there were moments where we could’ve competed a little better against them. Hopefully, we’ve kinda fixed some of the glitches that didn’t allow us to be successful in the past, to allow us to at least compete and give us a chance down the stretch so we have a chance to win.”
The USVI will play four games over a five-day span in the group round — after Colombia, they face No. 4 Canada on Saturday, No. 15 Brazil on Monday and No. 85 El Salvador on Tuesday —with one goal in mind: making it to the elimination round.
The top four teams in each group — Group B has top-ranked United States, host team and No. 23 Puerto Rico, No. 28 Argentina, No. 44 Dominican Republic and No. 52 Venezuela — advance to the elimination rounds.
From there, the Women’s AmeriCup’s four semifinalists earn berths in one of FIBA’s Women’s World Cup 2022 qualifying tournaments, which will be played in February 2022.
“I’m still thankful that we’re here,” Abraham-Ngongba said. “I tell the girls every day, ‘Just remember — we’re doing what we love to do, and we get a chance to play for our country.’
“No matter what happens, we’re trying to keep our eyes on the prize, what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish.”