By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
WITH Dwight Coleby's decision to join the University of Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, it created the potential for yet another matchup of Bahamian players going head to head at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The Hilltoppers will represent Conference-USA in the eight-team field, which also includes fellow Bahamian DeAndre Ayton, and his Arizona Wildcats out of the PAC 12.
Already touted as one of the top early season tournaments in NCAA basketball, this year's Battle 4 Atlantis marks the fourth consecutive time Bahamians will participate in the tournament, hosted November 23-25 at the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort,
The 2017 tournament field will also include the 2013 champion Villanova Wildcats (Big East), Purdue Boliermakers (Big 10), North Carolina State Wolfpack (ACC), Tennessee Volunteers (SEC), SMU Mustangs (AAC) and the Northern Iowa Panthers (MVC).
This means Bahamians will get an early look at Ayton, one of the sought after basketball prospects in America during what many expect to be his lone season of NCAA basketball and the final stop in Coleby's collegiate career during his post-graduate season.
The 2016 tournament included the Michigan State Spartans and Bahamian guard Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn who enters his senior season with the Spartans this fall.
The remainder of the field included Louisville Cardinals, the Wichita State Shockers, St John's Red Storm, Virginia Commonwealth University Rams, the eventual tournament champion Baylor Bears, LSU Tigers and Old Dominion Monarchs.
The 2016 field will also mark the second time the Cardinals played in the Battle 4 Atlantis following their appearance in 2012. They fell to Duke in the tournament finale in Nassau but went on to win the NCAA national title.
The 2015 tournament featured another strong Bahamian presence with the Texas A and M Aggies' Tavario Miller and Texas Longhorns' Shaquille Cleare.
That year's field also included the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Michigan Wolverines, UConn Huskies, Charlotte 49ers, Syracuse Orangemen and Washington Huskies.
Buddy Hield of the Oklahoma Sooners and Wannah Bail of the UCLA Bruins became the first Bahamians to play in the tournament when they competed in 2014.
The Wisconsin Badgers went on to win the title in a field that also included the UAB Blazers, Florida Gators, Georgetown Hoyas, Butler Bulldogs and the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The tournament is staged at the 3,900-seat Imperial Arena, a ballroom converted into a basketball venue.
The event is televised live on ESPN and AXS TV. ESPN2 airs opening round games while ESPN airs the semi-finals, third place and championship games.
Ayton announced his decision to attend Arizona, in a press conference broadcasted live on ESPN's Sportscenter.
The No.1 recruit for the class of 2017, he chose Arizona over Kentucky and Kansas. He became the first top overall recruit to commit to a Pac-12 team since Kevin Love did so for UCLA.
Ayton began a recruitment run for Sean Miller and the Wildcats which saw them rise all the way to No.3 in the rankings for the class of 2017.
The star-studded 2017 class also includes Emmanuel Akot who was ranked No. 15 overall and as the No. 3 small forward in the 2018 class before he reclassified to this year. Sharpshooter Brandon Randolph will join them and four-star recruits Ira Lee and Alex Barcello.
"I made Arizona home at Hillcrest Prep," Ayton said during his announcement. "My mom, my family can benefit coming to my games. We really trust their program. I know they can help me get to the next level."
During the course of the regular season, Ayton averaged 30 points, 19 rebounds and 5.7 blocks for Hillcrest.
Coleby committed to the Hilltoppers as a graduate transfer from the University of Kansas and will become immediately eligible for the upcoming Fall 2017 campaign.
Last season a junior, Coleby averaged 1.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in his first season in a Jayhawks uniform.
Stansbury was previously linked to Coleby after he originally recruited him during his tenure at Mississippi State while Coleby attended the Piney Woods School in Mississippi.
A busy offseason for the Hilltoppers included signing JUCO star Jordan Brangers, Austin Peay transfer Jared Savage and has been highlighted by the highest rated incoming recruit in programme history, McDonald's All-American and five-star prospect - Mitchell Robinson.
In his second year at the helm in Western Kentucky, head coach Rick Stansbury beat out teams for Robinson, the four-star Brangers, three stars Josh Anderson, Taveion Hollingsworth and Chris Duarte. He also added Marek Nelson, a small forward from Sunrise Christian Academy who reclassified from the 2018 class.
Both Ayton and Coleby have had experiences as members of the Bahamas Senior Men's National teams.
Ayton made his Bahamian national team debut with the men's Centrobasket team that finished seventh in Panama in July 2016 while Coleby was a member of the gold medal-winning CBC Championships team in the British Virgin Islands in 2014.