By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WITH a sizeable donation from Baha Mar, the Bahamas Basketball Federation has been able to field a men's national team, comprising of local, collegiate and professional players to represent the Bahamas at the first leg of the FIBA World Cup and Olympic Games qualifier.
At a press conference on Monday at Baha Mar, the federation introduced the 13-member team that will travel to Canada on Wednesday to play their first game on Friday before returning home to play the US Virgin Islands next Monday at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Assistant coach Wayde Watson, in announcing the team, said it's the best team he's seen assembled and is confident that they can accomplish their goals of firstly beating Canada and then winning over the US Virgin Islands.
Watson will be one of the assistant coaches on the team that will be led by Mario Bowleg, the federation first vie president.
The other assistant coaches are Norris Bain from Grand Bahama, Kevin 'KJ' Johnson and Moses Johnson.
The team selected will comprise of the following:
Guards - Lynden Rose Jr, Michael Carey Jr, Able Joseph, Michael Bain Jr and Darshtyn Baker.
Forwards - Jonathan Augustin-Fairell, Juraun Keno Burrows, Robert Nortman, Torrington Cox, Shaquille Cleare, David Nesbitt, Livingstone Munnings and Mark St Forte.
Other members of the Bahamas delegation Rodney 'Kripy' Wilson from Grand Bahama, Trevor Grant, Elvardo Kemp and John Marc Nutt. Eugenia Patton is the therapist.
Bowleg said the executives made a conscious effort to seek and find the other Bahamian basketball players whom they have never heard about or played for the team before.
With the help of Burrows and checking on the internet, Bowleg said they located three additional players in Nortman, who plays in Canada; St Forte, who is in Europe and Augustine-Fairrell, who is playing in France.
"We want the Bahamians to come out on November 27 when we have our home game against the US Virgin Islands and see these guys," Bowleg said,
"They might not be a Buddy Hield or Deandre Ayton. These guys are just as good. They might not be in the NBA, but they also played division one basketball and that's why I think the Bahamians will be very proud of the team that they will see on the floor."
Before they leave town on Wednesday, Bowleg said the public could get a first hand view of the team in practice when they play a scrimmage between the players on two different teams at 7 pm tonight at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.
Compared to the team that he coached in Panama last summer, losing to Mexico in their bid to advance to the Tournament of Americas, Bowleg said this team is very talented across the board and is well balanced.
"We were very poor in the guard position as far as the point guard is concerned, but we have added Darshtyn Baker, who has not played or us since 2016, he's back and we have LJ, who last played in 2008, but got injured in the first game and haven't played since, those two guys alone in practice has made this team look better," Bowleg said.
"And when you look at the forward position, all of those guys are very versatile. They can all play five, four and three. I love this team. I really love this team. My objective is very high and they have the heart and the mindset, so we will be okay."
The team has only had a short time to prepare, having got together for the first time over the weekend. But Bowleg said they have proven that they can make the necessary transition and are all eager and ready to represent the country.
Burrows, the team captain, thanked Baha Mar for making it possible through their sponsorship to get them all here to represent the team, which have the chemistry.
With the new format that FIBA has instituted, Burrows said it will definitely help the Bahamas because the coaching staff, led by Bowleg, can utilize a lot of players who are playing overseas as they take a break to come home and compete.
"We're working very hard. I love the group (of players)," said Bowleg, who has been a part of the national programme for the past 12 years. "This is one of the hardest working groups. Everybody just wants to be a part.
"I'm happy to be home. I'm happy to lead a young talented team. We're looking forward to making history. I honestly believe that we have the talent, not only to compete, but to beat some of these power house teams around the world."
Burrows made it clear that he decided to make the trek here from France where he is playing just to make his contribution to the success of the team. He said all of the players have made the sacrifice to be here and they are going to get the job done.
Rose Jr added to Burrow's comments, stating that they will need the support of the Bahamian public to help them get over the hump.
He said they just have to taker care of business in these first two games and then get ready for the second round in February.
As one of the new guys on the team, 6-feet-7 Augustin-Fairell said he's just delighted to be back home from France and given the opportunity to compete on the team.
"I just got here last night (Sunday) on the flight from France. I will practice today (Monday). I'm a bit jetlag, but everything is good," he said. "I've done my research. I know some of the guys like Keno and Michael, whom I play against in France, so I know what they can do."
And Carey said he too is jetlag, but from what he's seen, the team is a solid one.
"The difference from the past is that we have more of the pro players coming home," Carey said. "We have the funding behind us, so we can now come out and be funded. So as far as the chemistry goes, basketball is basketball. Everybody knows certain plays to do right away. But we have a lot of chemistry on this team."
Bowleg said thanks to Baha Mar's donation of a $250,000 for the next two years, they have the financial support to go after the pro players and bring them home to compete.
He said when the team travel to Canada, they will be dressed up so much with Baha Mar apparel that their opponents will think they re playing for Baha Mar.
Baha Mar's president Graeme Davis said when they were approached by the federation, they were so impressed with what they saw, that the jumped to the idea of sponsoring the team and they wish them every success.
As part of title sponsorship privileges, Baha Mar will participate in team promotion, events and activities including uniform design, home court branding and outfitting, press conferences, and serving as host of the Summer Thunder Tournament over the next three years.
The Bahamas has been placed in Division A and Group B of the FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifiers, playing against Canada, The Dominican Republic and The Virgin Islands. 16 teams from group A will be competing in the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Americas qualifiers and only seven teams will advance to the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup will be the 18th annual tournament for the men's national basketball teams and will be held in China. The seven top contenders from the FIBA Basketball World Cup will qualify directly for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.