Nov. 16, 2007
By Simit Shah –
ST. THOMAS, USVI — Jeremis Smith stood out on the balcony of his hotel room last night surveying the scene at the hotel’s outdoor bar below and the ocean less than 50 yards away. That’s as close to Smith and his teammates would get to the fun and sun in St. Thomas, as they focus on business rather than pleasure at the Paradise Jam.
The Yellow Jackets face Charlotte today in the opener of the eight-team tournament at 1 p.m., and the tropical delights of St. Thomas have been superseded by their academic and basketball priorities.
“We’ll have our fun later,” said junior Alade Aminu. “We’re here to win basketball games, and then we’ll enjoy ourselves.”
The team arrived Wednesday evening, and their itinerary has been dominated by film sessions, study halls and meals thus far. The Jackets spent yesterday morning practicing at the Antilles School, a private academy near the team hotel.
The brisk two-hour session was closed to the public, but a gaggle of elementary school-aged children stood on chairs and pressed their faces up against the narrow windows of the gym doors to catch a glimpse of the action.
“This is like Disneyland for them when they see the teams,” said the dean of faculty Fred Hupprich, who has been at the school 22 years. “It’s a big thrill for them every year, and it’s a great draw for the island. Sometimes the coaches will let the older kids into the gym to watch, but the little ones would get so excited and interrupt practice.”
Following practice, the team had a study hall session before heading to an evening tournament reception with the other seven teams at Paradise Point, which sits atop a mountain overlooking the port of Charlotte Amalie.
St. Thomas is the farthest that the Jackets will travel this season, and a trip like this certainly magnifies some of the unique challenges that a basketball team faces on the road.
Though the team flew to St. Thomas on a charter flight, it’s not quite the lap of luxury that most NBA teams enjoy. The mid-size jet did allow the players to each have their own row and spread out, but that’s not always the case, as the team often travels on commercial flights.
In those situations, the two most magical words in the English language are “exit row.” The extra legroom in those rows is welcome relief to the team’s tallest players. Drawing a middle seat in coach for someone like seven-footer Brad Sheehan can be like trying to cram a giraffe into a Civic.
“You definitely want the exit row,” the redshirt freshman said. “The next best is an aisle seat, but you’re never completely comfortable. The charter is a lot better for us.”
“Flights are pretty good when you get an exit row,” added Aminu, who is 6-10. “Anything else is not a good flight. Your knees are usually hitting against the seat in front of you. You’ll end up getting off the flight off aching.”
The flight to St. Thomas was about three hours, which was nothing compared to the 11-hour marathon journey to Maui last season.
“I thought we were never going to get off that flight,” said Sheehan. “After a while, you start to cramp up.”
For those listening to today’s game on the radio, you’ll notice a new voice calling the action on the Georgia Tech/ISP Radio Network. Neither Wes Durham nor Randy Waters made the trip, so Wichita State’s Mike Kennedy will be the tropical voice of the Yellow Jackets for the next three games.
Kennedy has been broadcasting Shockers’ contests for the past 32 years, so calling another team’s games will be a bit of a new experience for the play-by-play veteran.
“I pride myself on the preparation I put into each game,” he said. “It’ll be a little different calling a game for someone other than Wichita State, but I’ve been studying my notes. I’ll spend some time talking to Coach Hewitt and some others to get a feel for team.”
In addition to the radio coverage of the tournament, the Jackets’ games will be televised if they win today. Their games on Sunday (6 p.m.) and Monday (6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.) will be on SportSouth in Atlanta and nationally on the Fox College Sports.