The Paradise Jam
An Island Paradise Basketball Tournament
The U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam offers mens and womens college basketball teams a chance for excellent early season competition in an exotic island setting. Since the tournament’s inception in 2000, many of the nation’s finest mens and womens teams have converged on St. Thomas to test their skills and enjoy some fun in the sun.
Since 2001, the tournament has been played at the 4,000-seat UVI Sports and Fitness Center. The first year of the tournament was played at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, in anticipation of the completion of the state-of-the-art UVI facility in 2001. The UVI facility was praised as the best non-mainland tournament facility by several tournament head coaches. Billy Hahn, La Salle coach said, “I’ve been to Maui and San Juan and the U.V.I. venue is A#1 the best. The locker rooms and floor are great, it’s not even close!” Murry Bartow, who was the head coach of UAB in 2001, said, “The facility is unbelievable. Usually at [non-mainland] games not many people show up, but the atmosphere was really good.”
Tourism & Television
The two-week tournament in November draws more people to the Virgin Islands than any other event except Carnival and brings much-needed dollars to the territory’s businesses just before the tourist season gears up. From a tourism point of view, college basketball fans are demographically desirable. The median household income of NCAA basketball viewers, according to an ESPN-commissioned study by MRI Custom Cable, is $9,000 higher than the national median. The data was drawn from the cable company’s advertising material and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Basketball Travelers, Inc. has worked with national broadcast outlets to televise multiple Paradise Jam tournament games annually, both men’s and women’s. Tournament directors see the addition of regional and national television coverage as taking the Paradise Jam to the highest level of collegiate basketball tournaments. Television coverage provides each participating team critical exposure for recruiting and fan viewership. The U.S. Virgin Islands also greatly benefits from invaluable national media coverage, exposing potential tourists to the beauty and splendor of the islands. This potential boost to the island’s economy via prospective tourism exposure also fulfills a core tournament objective.
During the men’s tournament tenure dating back to 2001, all but two of the men’s Paradise Jam champions have advanced to the NCAA tournament in the year following their participation in the Paradise Jam. Miami (unranked prior to the 2001 tournament and ranked as high as 12th afterwards) and BYU (2002) both accepted invitations to the Big Dance. 2003 Paradise Jam participants Boston College (champions) and Monmouth (3rd) both earned invites to the Men’s NCAA tournament in 2004. Although 2004 Paradise Jam champion Arkansas did not participate in the 2005 NCAA tournament, 3rd place Winthrop did earn a berth. Wisconsin (2005) represented the Paradise Jam Champions in the 2006 NCAA tournament. 2006 Paradise Jam champion Alabama failed to make an NCAA tournament appearance in 2007, but tourney co-horts Xavier, Villanova and VCU all participated in NCAA post-season play. Three teams again represented the Paradise Jam in the 2008 NCAA tournament, with 2007 champions Baylor, runner-up Winthrop, and Notre Dame all participating in post-season NCAA action. 2008 Paradise Jam champion Connecticut made it all the way to the 2009 Final Four, losing in the semi-finals. In 2010, Purdue (’09 PJ champs) and Tennessee (’09 PJ runnerup) each earned berths into the Sweet 16, and Northern Iowa (3rd) made it all the way to the Elite Eight. This was perhaps the best overall showing of any men’s field in Paradise Jam history. Four teams from the 2010 Paradise Jam tournament earned their way into the 2011 NCAA tournament (Champion ODU, runner-up Xavier, 3rd place Clemson and 7th place Saint Peter’s), but all four fell in the Round of 64. 2011 Paradise Jam champion Marquette advanced to the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament, with runner-up Norfolk State advancing to the Round of 32 and 4th place Virginia falling in the Round of 64. New Mexico (2012 Paradise Jam champion) and Iona (2012 6th place) both earned berths into the 2013 NCAA tournament, each losing in the Round of 64. 2013 Paradise Jam runner-up Providence was the tournament’s only 2014 NCAA tournament qualifier, losing in the Round of 64.
Since its inception in 2000, the Paradise Jam women’s tournament has always been one of the most competitive early season collegiate basketball tournaments in the nation. Tournament champions have failed only once to earn berths to the NCAA post-season tournament, with two teams claiming the NCAA national championship. The most notable accomplishment was the Maryland Terrapins winning the 2006 NCAA National Championship, becoming the first Paradise Jam participant to claim the title of national champion in the same season. Ironically Maryland did not earn the Paradise Jam championship, narrowly losing to the Tennessee Lady Vols in the game’s final seconds. The 2008 NCAA tournament boasted the greatest representation of Paradise Jam participants, as seven of the ten teams from 2007 earned berths. Two of those seven teams ended up in the NCAA Final Four, with Stanford defeating Connecticut to earn a berth in the championship game. The 2009 NCAA tournament included five Paradise Jam teams: Iowa, Villanova, Central Florida (all first round) and Cal and Baylor (Sweet 16). Six of the eight teams from the 2009 Paradise Jam field earned their way into 2010 March Madness, with San Diego State, Notre Dame and Mississippi State making it to the Sweet 16 and Oklahoma advancing to the Final Four. Five of the eight teams from the 2010 Paradise Jam were represented at the 2011 NCAA tournament, with Tennessee advancing to the Elite 8. The 2012 Paradise Jam was also a banner year, with 6 of the 8 teams advancing to the NCAA tournament in 2013, lead by national champion UConn. Four teams from the 2013 Paradise Jam competed in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Duke, Texas and Syracuse all advanced to the 2nd round, and Texas A&M lost in the Elite 8 to eventual NCAA champion UConn.
Tournament Goals and Objectives
As the second largest tourist event on the island behind Carnival, the Paradise Jam provides an important boost to the local economy and tourism trade. The two-week, 16-team tournament brings in an estimated 1500 people to the island who are spending their tourism dollars on hotels, restaurants, transportation, services, and island memorabilia. The addition of national television coverage serves to attract even more tourism interest.
Bringing big-time college basketball to the islands for the enjoyment and entertainment of the local people is another objective of the Paradise Jam. The people of the U.S.V.I. are very basketball-savvy observers, as well as talented players. Several athletes from the islands have earned basketball scholarships to mainland colleges. The most famous player from the U.S.V.I. is NBA Most Valuable Player Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. Islanders have brought their raucous enthusiasm for basketball to the Paradise Jam since the tournament’s inception, much to the surprise and joy of participating players and coaches alike. The loud crowds inspire the players from mainland colleges to raise their early-season play to an even higher level. Many coaches comment about the strong fan support they receive at both the men’s and women’s games, which for many of the women’s teams is an unexpected bonus.
Education and youth involvement are also encouraged at the Paradise Jam tournament. Promotion of the game of basketball to the youth of St. Thomas is achieved through basketball clinics administrated by tournament staff. During the tournament itself, local high school youth are recruited as junior staff members to assist the tournament administrators in running many aspects of the tournament. The youth learn about service, sales, hospitality, media relations and many other skills as they work side by side with experienced staff members. Other youths participate in steel pan bands, school bands, and dance performances during half-time game entertainment. These young community members are an integral part of the success of the Paradise Jam tournament, while also learning valuable lessons in service, performance and organization.
The tournament also strives to educate and impress the incoming tournament participants with the matchless beauty and attributes of the island’s nature and culture. Functions such as the Welcome Reception, half-time shows with mocko jumbies dancing to steel pan bands, and the catamaran snorkel tour show off the unique features of island life in St. Thomas. Many tournament participants comment that the memories they take with them of the people they met, the reef habitats, the sunshine, and the beauty of the island will never be forgotten.
In 2001, just after the first men’s tournament, AP basketball writer Jim O’Connell wrote, “Move over, Maui. Step aside, San Juan. There’s a new vacation venue moving onto the Division I basketball scene.” With the addition of national television coverage, unexcelled tournament fields and the best vacation-venue facility outside of the U.S. mainland, the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam aims to become the most illustrious pre-season basketball tournament in the nation.