Nov. 17, 2007
By Simit Shah –
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands — The sweet reward for the Yellow Jackets’ win over Charlotte in the opening round of the Paradise Jam tournament was a day off on Saturday. There was still practice to prepare for Sunday night’s semi-final game with Winthrop, and a two-hour study hall late in the afternoon.
But after the morning practice session, the many of the players and members of the travel party headed for the open waters, taking a catamaran to Buck Island and a snorkeling excursion in Shipwreck Cove. Later came dinner at one of the island’s finest establishments, Oceana.
The trip to St. Thomas gives the Jackets a chance for some fun, but coach Paul Hewitt also views it as a trip that will pay dividends later in the season.
“You get a chance to play in a tournament-type atmosphere and that helps you get ready for situations like the NCAA Tournament,” he explained. “You’ve got short preparation, and that comes into play in March.
“I don’t want to overlook the fact that it’s a nice opportunity for these kids to take a nice trip. They get to relax a little bit. It’s a little stressful, because academically they have a lot going on this time of the year. Overall, it’s a nice experience for them.”
This is the team’s second excursion in two years, as they made it to the finals of the Maui Invitational last November against a strong field. Hewitt said that tournament organizers start the process of inviting teams several years in advance, and the NCAA allows school to participate every year if they choose. At this point, there is not a similar trip planned for next season.
“It does build camaraderie,” noted junior D’Andre Bell. “We get to know each other better, and it’s big just to get away from all the outside distractions. It’s a different environment for us.”
The trip to St. Thomas has also prompted Hewitt to institute a new policy concerning cell phones. The team’s various communication devices are collected at the door when the team meets.
“They just sit on their cell phones either talking or sending text messages,” he said. “When you’re with your family, and that’s what we say we are, at dinner it would be nice if we communicated. I did it the night before the last game, and we’re going to continue to do it the whole year.”
Asked if any of the players voiced any resistance, Hewitt answered, “This is not a democracy.”
The Yellow Jackets are back in action Sunday evening at 6 p.m. Eastern time against Winthrop, which defeated Illinois-Chicago 72-58 yesterday. The game will be televised in the Atlanta area on SportSouth.