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Oct. 31, 2001 – The NCAA "Paradise Jam" basketball tournament to be played at the University of the Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center Nov. 17-26 is expected to bring a lot of exposure for the territory in the mainland media as well as much-needed business for the hospitality industry here.
"The people who follow these teams have a lot of disposable income," said Peter Sauer, UVI athletic director. He expects at least 50 fans to accompany each of the 17 men's and women's teams that will play in the tournament, which extends over the long Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend. That would be at least 850 visitors, and Sauer anticipates that all of them will spend at least five nights in a hotel on St. Thomas.
"It gives us a shot in the arm right when we need it," Beverly Nicholson, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, said. With many hoteliers talking gloom and doom for the fall and possibly the winter, Nicholson said the tournament is providing enough activity to drive up the energy level a bit.
This is the second year of National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament play at UVI. Last year, Sauer said, four women's teams played a Paradise Jam tournament here.
The participating teams are big Division I schools — colleges that have well-developed athletics programs and the money to support them. Such top names as Clemson, Florida State and Arizona State pepper the schedule.
Sauer said the teams will be housed at the island's top hotels — no low-budget guest houses for these players. "Even the poorer teams have charter flights," he said.
While the tournament traffic is good for the economy now, Sauer said, the national media coverage of the games may well lure more visitors to the territory later. He said each team will have live radio coverage of the games broadcast in its hometown, and writers from such major metropolitan area newspapers as the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times, along with the Associated Press, will have staff covering the games.
"You can't buy this kind of exposure," Sauer said.
Paradise Jam will have its social moments for local residents, too. On Nov. 16, the night before the tournament opens, the Havensight and Port of $ale Malls will host an island-style jam to welcome the visitors, with local bands and steelpan groups, moko jumbies, food and drink, arts and crafts. Team members and coaches will sign autographs for fans, Havensight Merchants and Professional Association manager Linda Pinson said.
Nicholson said the sports market is one that the territory needs to cultivate. "It's totally underserved," she said.
Nels Hawkinson, director of Basketball Travelers, the company that organized the Paradise Jam event, pointed out that on Wednesday the USA Today newspapers carried a small story in the sports section about the tournament with a headline reading "Virgin Islands hopes to be hoop resort." The article describes the UVI Sports and Fitness Center, noting that it is just a short walk from the beach at John Brewers Bay and across from the university's golf course.
"This is exactly the exposure you're going to get every day," Hawkinson said. He said Basketball Travelers' Neal Holden was on his way to the territory on Thursday to discuss with Tourism Department and St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce members what kind of support they would provide for the tournament. He said "support" would be in the form of gifts for players, not hotel rooms, airfares or other big-ticket items.
Sauer said the key to the UVI having attracted the tournament was the opening of the new athletic center last year. Without the new facility, he said, the tournament would still be winging its way to Hawaii, where it previously played.
He also said a smaller Division 3 tournament is scheduled at the center for December.
See the Source sports item "NCAA basketball tournament set for November" for the tournament schedule.

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