The U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Men’s Basketball Tournament is reaching new heights this year with the addition of two men’s teams to the original six-team bracket. Eight division I men’s basketball teams will travel to St. Thomas to participate in the 7th annual U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Tournament at the University of the Virgin Islands. Basketball fans can look forward to the most impressive men’s field that the Paradise Jam has ever assembled, with four of the 2006 participants earning berths to the 2006 NCAA tournament last March. Villanova (28-5), Iowa (25-9), Xavier (21-11), and Alabama (18-13) each competed in the NCAA tournament, with Villanova advancing to the Elite 8, and Alabama reaching the second round. Although those four NCAA-hardened squads bring high expectations to the islands this November, they will be hard-pressed by the other four teams also seeking early season success. Virginia Commonwealth (19-10), Toledo (20-11), College of Charleston (17-11), and Middle Tennessee State (16-12) round out the eight-team Paradise Jam field, making it one of the most competitive neutral court early season tournaments in America.
The strong eight-team field will begin game competition on November 17th with consecutive-day action culminating in the championship round on Nov. 20. The 2006 Paradise Jam will tip off with the University of Alabama playing Middle Tennessee State at 2pm on the 17th. The day’s other match ups include Toledo and Iowa at 4:30 pm, Xavier and Virginia Commonwealth at 7pm and College of Charleston battling Villanova at 9:30pm. All game times are Atlantic Standard Time (one hour ahead of Eastern Standard Time). Two games will be played daily on November 18th (losing teams from the 17th) and 19th (winning teams from the 17th) at 7:00pm and 9:30pm. The final day of competition on November 20 will be structured similarly to the first day, with the game times set for 2pm, 4:30pm, 7pm and the championship game at 9:30pm. All games will be played at the state-of-the-art University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
Villanova headlines this exciting men’s bracket, based on their impressive finish in the 2006 NCAA tournament. Villanova enters the tournament with post-season momentum behind them, advancing to the Elite eight and losing in the regional final to eventual national champion Florida. Villanova returns two starters from last year’s squad after losing three players to the NBA. Senior Randy Foye was chosen 7th in the NBA draft by Minnesota Timberwolves, fellow senior Allen Ray signed a free agent contract with Boston, and junior guard Kyle Lowry was chosen 24th by the Memphis Grizzlies. The sole returning starters, seniors Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan, will have high expectations placed upon them coming off last season’s remarkable success. Sheridan, a 6-8 forward, started 31 of Villanova’s 32 games, averaging 5.6 ppg and team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. Nardi, a 6-2 guard, added 10.4 points per game, and will be expected to guide the team. Villanova also adds five new freshmen to the 2006-2007 squad, including McDonalds All American Scottie Reynolds a 6-foot-1 guard from Herndon (Va.) High School. Reynolds was a three-time Associated Press first-team All-State selection and was the Class AAA Player of the Year as a senior. He averaged 28.4 points, 4.5 assists and four steals as a senior.
The University of Iowa comes to St. Thomas boasting a 25-9 record, a Big Ten Conference Tournament championship and an NCAA tournament appearance. The Hawkeyes earned a #3 seed while making their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, ending the season with a last second upset loss to Northwestern State in the first round of the tournament. Coach Steve Alford and Iowa will look to returning starters Adam Haluska and Mike Henderson for early season leadership on the court. Haluska, a 6-5 senior guard, averaged 13.9 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. Henderson, also a senior guard, contributed 7.6 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game last season. Sophomore guard Tony Freeman (3.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg) appeared in 33 games last season and will be expected to contribute more this year.
The Xavier Musketeers finished 21-11 last season, recording their ninth 20-win season in the last 10 years. Coach Sean Miller returns all five starters from the team that won the 2006 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Xavier returns the top seven players that put together that championship run. Three contributors are seniors, including 6-6 forward Justin Cage, the 2006 Atlantic 10 Championship “Most Outstanding Player” and two-time A-10 All-Defensive Team selection. Cage (14.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and fellow senior forward Justin Doellman (11 ppg, 6.7 rpg) are expected to start for the fourth straight season. The duo has won two Atlantic 10 Championships and two NCAA Tournament berths in three years in the starting lineup. The versatile 6-9 Doellman led XU in rebounding last season for the second straight year (10th in the Atlantic 10), and also ranked in the top ten in the league in steals and blocks. The third senior is 6-8 forward Brandon Cole, who became XU’s top big man off the bench as a junior. Junior Stanley Burrell (14.4, 3.3 assists per game) earned 2006 Atlantic 10 Conference Second Team honors and led XU in scoring in each of his first two seasons as a Musketeer. Drew Lavender, a 5-7 transfer who becomes eligible this season, was a two-year starter at point guard at Oklahoma and is a former prep McDonald’s All-American and All-Ohio standout. In addition to Lavender, the impressive list of five newcomers includes red shirt freshman forward Derrick Brown, arguably one of the best athletes in the Atlantic 10. Freshman guard Adrion Graves and newcomer big men Charles Bronson and Jason Love are all expected to make an impact this season.
Alabama travels to the Paradise Jam after making their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. The Crimson Tide advanced to the second round in 2006, falling to eventual national champion runner-up UCLA. Alabama is coached by its former All-SEC guard, Mark Gottfried, who guided them to the Elite 8 in 2004. Alabama returns four starters from last season. They will be led by their two standout 1st team All-SEC players Jermareo Davidson (14.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg), a 6-10 senior forward, and 6-3 junior point guard Ronald Steele (14.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.3 apg), an Honorable Mention AP All-American in 2006 and an All-SEC selection as both a freshman and sophomore. Also expected to contribute are 2006 All-SEC Freshman Team selections Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee. Hendrix (9.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg), a 6-8-sophomore guard, received the freshmen of the week award three times in 2005-06 season. Alonzo Gee, a 6-6 sophomore forward, averaged 8.6 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game and proved to be a huge contributor down the stretch and into the NCAA tournament.
Virginia Commonwealth is one of two Paradise Jam participants that come to the islands with a new coach at the helm. Anthony Grant was named VCU head coach after winning the national championship as the top assistant at Florida. Under former head coach Jeff Capel, the Rams posted a 19-10 overall record and went 11-7 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Just missing an NIT bid, VCU had an RPI of 81 and a non-conference RPI of 25. VCU was the highest-rated team not to receive a post-season bid. After losing senior leading scorer and NBA prospect Nick George, new head coach Grant will look to returning starting seniors B.A. Walker and Jesse Pellot-Rosa. Walker, a 6-2 guard finished the 2006-06 season averaging 11.7 points per game. Jesse Pellot-Rosa, a 6-4 guard, averaged 9.2 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game.
College of Charleston (17-11) also travels to the Virgin Islands with a new coach at the helm, Bobby Cremins. Although new to the College of Charleston, Cremins is surely a recognized name in the men’s game as Georgia Tech’s all-time winningest coach. He was inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame and will be inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame this year. Cremins will look to 4 returning starters, three of which were All-Southern Conference picks from last year. Dontaye Draper, a 5-11 senior guard averaged 18.5 points per game, earning first team All-Southern Conference honors last year. Sophomore Jermaine Johnson, a 6-7 forward, was the Southern Conference Freshmen of the Year, averaging 8.9 points per game and pulling down a team high 7.5 boards. Junior forward Josh Jackson (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) was a third team All-SoConn selection and will be looked to contribute again this season. 6-7 Senior David Lawrence (9.3 ppg, 7 rpg) will also provide early leadership on the court.
Toledo returns to the Paradise Jam coming off a 20-11 season and a loss in the MAC tournament championship game, which would have guaranteed them a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Rockets played in the 2002 Paradise Jam and were victorious over Kansas State, but lost to BYU and Virginia Tech. Guided by head coach Stan Joplin, Toledo hopes to boost this year’s RPI and their chances at an NCAA or NIT post-season appearance. Senior trio Justin Ingram, Koenta Howell and Florentino Valencia will lead the Rockets. Co-Captain Ingram (14.6 ppg,3.2 rpg, 1.9 spg), a 6-2 guard, was a 2nd team All-MAC selection and averaged 19.3 points per game in post season play, earning a spot on the MAC All-Tournament team. Fellow co-captain Keonta Howell (11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) is a 6-4 guard who will also be expected to play a major role. Valencia, a 6-5 forward, lead the team in rebounds in the 2006 season with 4.4 rpg and averaged 12 points per game, emerging as the teams consistent low post threat. The other returning starter from last year’s squad is junior point guard Kashif Payne (8.4ppg, 4.3 apg) who will be looked at to run the offense.
Middle Tennessee completes the eight-team Paradise Jam field. After finishing the season 16-12 and losing only two starters, Middle Tennessee will look to a strong returning squad for some early season success. Head Coach Kermit Davis will expect to 6-4 senior guard Adam Vogelsberg, an All-Sun Belt selection to provide team leadership. Volesberg, who played most of the 2006 season through a shoulder injury, led the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game and was one of the most accurate 3-point field goal and free throw shooters in the Sun Belt last season. 6-10 senior Forward Kyle Young averaged 8.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Kevin Kanaskie is the son of Penn State associate head coach Kurt Kanaskie, formerly the head coach at Drake University. Kanaskie and sophomore Theryn Hudson combined for 21 starts as freshmen. When the duo started together in the final 10 games of the season the Blue Raiders were 8-2.
In 2005 Paradise Jam action Wisconsin defeated Old Dominion 84-81 to take home the Paradise Jam crown. Georgia beat Eastern Kentucky to take third place (76-68) and Fordham finished ahead of Norfolk State with a 72-53 win.