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ISV - World Cup Qualifiers will help Virgin Islands take sport to higher level in the country
May 11th, 2017
 
ST CROIX (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019) - The Virgin Islands may not resonate with a lot of fans in the international basketball community but that could be about to change.
 
Led by coach Sam Mitchell, the Caribbean side will be dangerous opponents in the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers when they go up against Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas in Group D.
 
The Virgin Islands won their Centrobasket opener against the Bahamas last year in Panama.
 
Mitchell, who enjoyed a long and successful playing career in the NBA and also had stints at the helm of the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves, is now trying to do something similar to what he achieved in his college days.
 
He put little-known Mercer basketball on the map during his time at the university from 1981-85 and is now looking to do the same with the Virgin Islands.
 
"He's been the coach for the past two years," Virgin Islands Basketball Federation president Theron Richards said to FIBA.com. "We've been doing well under him. We won the gold at the CBC (Championship) in 2015 and then we qualified (at the Centrobasket Championship) in Panama in 2016 for the World Cup Qualifiers so we've done pretty well under him."
 
A coach is only as good as his players, many would argue, so the aim is to give Mitchell the best that the Virgin Islands have to offer. The Virgin Islands have players all over the world.
 
Mitchell, who enjoyed a long and successful playing career in the NBA and also had stints at the helm of the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves, is now trying to do something similar to what he achieved in his college days.
 
He put little known Mercer basketball on the map during his time at the university from 1981-85 and is now looking to do the same with the Virgin Islands.
 
"He's been the coach for the past two years," Virgin Islands Basketball Federation president Theron Richards said to FIBA.com. "We've been doing well under him. We won the gold at the CBC (Championship) in 2015 and then we qualified (at the Centrobasket Championship) in Panama in 2016 for the World Cup Qualifiers so we've done pretty well under him."
 
A coach is only as good as his players, many would argue, so the aim is to give Mitchell the best that the Virgin Islands have to offer. The Virgin Islands have players all over the world.
 
France-based Walter Hodge led the Virgin Islands in scoring in 2016
 
"We're faced with the challenge of bringing players back from Europe and overseas and the jobs they have there," Richards said.
 
So who are they?
 
Cuthbert Victor, 34, may be the best known of Virgin Islands players.  The 1.96m ace averaged 10.2 points and 9.2 rebounds on the 2015 team that Mitchell coached. At his first Centrobasket Championship back in 2003, Victor averaged 18.8ppg and 9.8rpg.
 
A big contributor the past three summers has been Craig Williams Jr, a 2.06m power forward/center who played collegiately at Temple and then Texas Christian University. The 27-year-old from Saint Croix played this season in Japan for Ehime Orange Vikings.
 
European fans know the explosive point guard Walter Hodge of French side ASVEL, a star in the Basketball Champions League this season. The former Florida Gator in NCAA hoops played last summer for the Virgin Islands and had team-high averages of 14ppg and 5.6apg. He wants to play.
 
Khallid Hart, who just wrapped up his American college career with the Marist Red Foxes where he played big minutes all four years and poured in a lot of points, was the second leading scorer in last summer's Virgin Islands team at 12.4ppg.
 
There also seems to be some interest from Russian-based star Frank Elegar of BC Enisey, the player who led the FIBA Europe Cup this season with an efficiency rating of 23.8 per game.
 
Having last played for the national team in 2010, Elegar gave an interview to FIBA.com this season and was asked about a return to the side.
 
"For me, it's about who's playing," he said. "I've played and I started really young with those guys, around the age of 17 or 18, when I made my debut.
 
"I've played with guys like Walter Hodge, who I talk to on a daily basis, or Cuthbert Victor - I know he's a little bit old. These are familiar faces, who I know that are veterans and focused on doing something special. We all may still get together and give it a last run or two."
 
When contacted by FIBA.com on Wednesday, Elegar of the World Cup Qualifiers: "I may suit up, been talking to Walter Hodges about it throughout the season."
 
Richards says that no matter what, the World Cup Qualifiers are a big deal for the Virgin Islands. 
 
"It's huge for us to be a part of these Qualifiers coming from a country with such a small population of 100,000 or less. It's a really great thing and a great accomplishment for the basketball federation to be qualified to play in the FIBA Qualifiers."
 
While Richards says he will leave all the scouting to the coaches, he was willing to comment on the draw.
 
I think the turnout for the competition will be very good because it will be the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands that fans have been able to see such a level of competition... Richards
 
"I'm pretty pleased with the draw that we've got," he said. "At least it gives us a fighting chance of getting out of the first round.
 
"If we get all of the players that we want to get for the team, I think we should do very well in that bracket."
 
Richards expects there to be an awakening of sorts in the Virgin Islands thanks to the home games. They will host the Dominicans on 24 November, Canada on 22 February and the Bahamas on 29 June (2018).
 
"I think the turnout for the competition will be very good because it will be the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands that fans have been able to see such a level of competition, since 2002 when the Virgin Islands hosted the CBC Tournament.
 
"However, this is a much higher level than the CBC so I'm sure the turnout will be great. We have great basketball fans here in the Virgin Islands."
 
Richards says without a doubt, the profile of basketball will go up thanks to the World Cup Qualifiers.
 
"It's a huge step forward," he said. "There is a lot of work involved in getting this done for the Virgin Islands.
 
"I don't know if the people of the Virgin Islands have realized the magnitude of international basketball because they haven't been seeing it on a regular basis live so they may be a little surprised or bewildered about the level of competition in FIBA."
 

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