The “bubble” has been the term used by most sports leagues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Virgin Islands Senior Men’s National Team is currently in the bubble in the 2022 AmeriCup Qualifiers being played in Punta Cana and are finding life a little bit difficult.
“As much as I saw other bubbles on television, you don’t truly understand what they went through,” said Donald Bough, V.I. head coach. “The reality shows us that the restrictions are difficult because you’re doing things you don’t normally do; however, they are doable.”
Some of the strict protocols faced by the team are that the players, over a 10-day-period, must have three negative PCR test results and must stay in isolation in their hotel rooms, except for practice and games, throughout their stay. A security escort is needed with any movement within the facility.
“The main thing about the bubble is you don’t know,” said Bough. “FIBA is learning as we are learning. Since this is their first bubble, not everything was factored in but should get better in time. FIBA is trying to keep us safe from everything and return us to home how we came.”
As for the 11 players that made the journey from St. Croix to participate, the main event is the game versus the home team, Dominican Republic, at 5:30 p.m., Sunday, on ESPN+.
“I am proud of this team,” said a jovial Bough. “The mindset is that we are here to play a game and to do whatever it takes to compete. The team has complied with FIBA protocols, even when things changed hour by hour or even minute by minute. We’ve battled through frustrations with the sudden changes, but our goal remains the same.”
“The chemistry we’ve built up over this experience, even though we don’t have our full talent, has brought the team together. We’ve had a situation when a couple of rooms have to stay in isolation and had not a full complement at practice.”
The players representing the territory are overseas professionals Walter Hodge (Egypt), Georgio Milligan (Sweden), Deon Edwin (Ukraine), LaRon Smith (Spain), Ivan Aska (Israel), Xavier Richards (Kosovo), Jason Perry-Murray (Georgia) combined with local talent Jervan Jackson (St. Thomas), Devon Peltier (St. Thomas), Leonardo Castillo (St. Croix) and new blood in former Mississippi State point guard Trivante Bloodman.
“We have the same problem for years in the lack of size,” said Bough. “The guard rotation is our strength; we have a core of guards that are solid.”
Another factor from the bubble that will be missed [by] the players and coaching staffs are the roaring noise of the fans.
“The sixth-man factor of the crowd, similar to the NBA bubble, will be missed by the home team. The crowd motivation all players strive to get is not there. In the NBA the missing fan support allowed the games to be more even and that is in our favor. However, on our end, the anticipation of quieting the audience is gone, but I like where we sit.”
The Dominican Republic team is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak versus the team from America’s Paradise. A far cry from when current Virgin Islands assistant coach Kevin Sheppard played, 4-1.
“We just have to find our tough and gritty style,” said Sheppard. “We have actually switched styles with the Hispanola team and it’s up to us to regain our form. That in your shorts, Virgin Islands defense that we’re known for.”
“We are going to compete and [are] going into the game with the mindset we are going to win,” said an emphatic Bough. “We will not be intimidated and show the world that we could hold our own.”
The Virgin Islands team is sponsored by VI Lottery, Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, and Sports, Parks and Recreation. Special thanks go to Gov. Albert Bryan and Chief of Staff Karl Knight.