By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
Organisers of the Battle 4 Atlantis are looking forward to bringing the top ranked men’s division one basketball team to Paradise Island for the third consecutive year as they have now emerged as the top men’s division one pre-season tournament to be held outside of the United States.
Scheduled for November 28-30, the tournament will feature eight elite teams in the pre-season showdown that will be led by No.5 ranked University of Kansas Jayhawks with the No.1 ranked player Andrew Wiggins, the six-foot, eight-inch freshman guard, who has already made an impact in their 94-83 rout over No.4 University of Duke Blue Devils on Monday night.
The other teams entered are the Villanova University Wildcats, the University of Tennessee Volunteers, the University of Southern California Trojans, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes, Xavier Musketeers, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the University of Texas at El Paso Miners.
At a press conference Thursday in the Olives Restaurant in the Atlantis Casino, Michele Wiltshire, senior vice president of special events and Ed Fields, senior vice president of public affairs, said they are excited about the calibre of teams and players that are coming down for the annual Thanksgiving tournament.
When the tournament got started in 2011 when Harward University Crimson won the inaugural title with a 59-49 decision over Central Florida to last year when the Duke Blue Devils upset the Louisville Cardinals 76-71, Wiltshire said they have surpassed their expectations in becoming the tournament of all pre-season tournaments.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” explained Wiltshire of the Imperial Arena that will be transformed into an incredible venue for the games. “What the teams and the fans are experiencing is something very authentic. Teams come here and they say ‘wow, this is an amazing destination, this country is beautiful, this hotel is cool and the whole family is having a great time.’”
When the tournament gets underway 1pm Thursday, November 28, with Villanova taking on Southern California to Saturday, November 30 when the championship game is played at 9:30pm, Wilshire said the fans will get to see the “best of the best.”
“When we have a team like Kansas come and you’re talking about the player who could be the No.1 draft pick, playing on that team on our property and on our arena, that’s a very real cool thing,” said Wiltshire of Wiggins, who has been projected as the next Lebron James going into the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft in June, if he decides to forgo the rest of his collegiate career.
“Last year, if you were not a fan of basketball, you became a religious member just to see how that game came to life between Duke and Louisville and how these two teams moved through the rest of their season and to here (Duke) coach Rick Pitino say at March Madness, ‘wow, you know what made the difference for us to this year is how we came together at the Battle 4 Atlantis.”
Fields said they are very proud to be the hosts of the tournament and that is due to the 8,000 associates that are employed at Atlantis that has made it all possible for them to enjoy the success they have achieved so far.
“Sports Illustrated is saying this, CNN is saying this that we are the premier pre-season tournament at the NCAA division one basketball,” Fields said. “We are very, very proud to be the host, we are very, very proud of the team that puts this one, this unique tournament for both the players and the fans. The reality is that we have a great, great team to pull this one.”
Since its inception, Wiltshire said they have also seen a remarkable hike in the ticket sales expanding from 7,000 to 17,000 last year.
With just two weeks before this year’s tournament is held, she noted that the numbers have skyrocketed to 24,000.The tickets are priced at $15 each.
What will be different this year is the fact that tickets will be sold for each game, thereby hopefully filling the 3,700-3,800 seating capacity.
Just about every team is expected to travel with their own fans, which is expected to boost the occupancy in Atlantis. For example, it is anticipated that the Jayhawks will be bringing about 1,600 from Kansas.
A total of 30 hours of live television will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Network and AXS TV from the 12 games played in the tournment. It’s also anticipated that more than 20 scouts from the various NBA teams will be in town to view the performances of the players in a view of getting a closer look at them prior to the start of the regular season.
While the fans will get a chance to be up close in the same environment with the players, Wiltshire said the fact that the tournament provides all of the amenities with hotel and the facilities in the same location, they are now having more and more of the top teams knocking on the door for an invitation to participate.
NCAA rules, however, dictates that teams have to go on a four-year rotation to travel, which means that the door is open for new teams to compete every year.
This year’s schedule on opening day:
Thursday, November 28
1pm - Villanova vs Southern California.
3:30pm - Kansas University vs Wake Forest
7pm - Xavier vs University of Iowa
9:30pm - University of Texas vs University of Texas at El Paso