FOLLOW MSN'S TONY CARIDI'S TRAVELS
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - There is a giant banner hanging at one end of the court at Coliseo de Puerto Rico, site of this week’s Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The banner promotes Puerto Rico tourism, and features such images as a sandy beach, a surfer navigating a cresting wave and a picturesque waterfall.
Smack in the middle of the banner is a photo of a rainbow arching over one of the ancient turrets in Old San Juan. It is an appropriate picture for this tournament, because as far as the head coaches are concerned, the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“I’ve been in Puerto Rico before, and I’ve loved my time here,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “This is a big-time tournament with a big-time field, and we’re happy to be part of it.
Bob Huggins, the head coach of defending Final Four participant West Virginia, feels the same way
“I’ve been down here twice before (as the head coach at Cincinnati) and really enjoyed it. We had a great time,” Huggins said. “So when they called about coming back down here, I jumped right on it.”
Rounding out the eight-team field for this year’s tournament are Davidson, Hofstra, Minnesota, Nebraska, Vanderbilt, and Western Kentucky. The teams have a combined record of 10-1 this season, 22-1 including exhibition games.
The action begins at 12:30 p.m. AT Thursday with the first of four games that day. There will be four second-round games on Friday, followed by an off day Saturday before the final round is held on Sunday. The championship game is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m. AT Sunday. All 12 tournament games will be televised by ESPN’s family of networks.
While rainy and cold weather spread across much of the United States this week, San Juan has been enjoying sunny days with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. That alone is enough to make the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off an attractive tournament getaway.
“It really cooled off yesterday right when we were getting ready to leave (Nashville),” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “That wind started blowing out of the north and all of the sudden it was rainy and unpleasant. So it was nice to come down here and get off the plane and have it be 77 degrees last night at about 11 o’clock.”
The tournament also offers a new experience for many of the players, most of whom have never left the continental United States. And with an off day built into the tournament schedule, the teams will have an opportunity to venture out beyond the confines of the hotel and the arena.
“I want the guys to take in some of the sights on our off day,” Western Kentucky head coach Ken McDonald said. “Anytime you get a chance to travel away from the weather – and we have some cold weather where we’re from – you want everyone to have a good experience. I’m sure we’ll get out on the beach a little bit and walk around and get to see how beautiful a place this is.”
Of course, the primary objective for the teams this week is to play basketball and try to win some games. In the end, that is the main appeal of the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off, especially considering the strength of the tournament field.
“Whoever ends up here on Sunday night as the last team standing is going to gain a great deal of confidence, because it’s such a quality field,” Williams said. “We’re ecstatic to be here in this great field and this great location.”
The Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off is one of six ESPN-sponsored basketball tournaments this season. It will be three days of fun in the sun, and provide ideal viewing for those looking for an escape from the first chilly winds of winter.The Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off - 2010 Notes
A homecoming for Diaz - For most players taking part in the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the tournament offers an opportunity to visit a new country. But for Nebraska center Jorge Brian Diaz, the tournament is a chance to come home. Diaz is a native of Caguas, Puerto Rico
“I am very excited to be here for this tournament,” Diaz said Wednesday. “There are a lot of great teams and I’m excited for my family and friend to watch me play. It’ll be the first time my mom has watched me play live with the Nebraska team and I’m very happy and excited for that.”
Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler said he is glad that Diaz will have a chance to play in his home country.
“Two years ago when he came to Nebraska, I wanted to try to get back down here,” Sadler said. “For you people down in Puerto Rico to have this young man representing you, there’s not another player in the country who will do it better.
“I had Filiberto Rivera at UTEP. Those two guys (Diaz and Rivera) - not to minimize anyone else – are special people and special players. I’m happy that he gets to come back here and play. I know he’s looking forward to it and hopefully the people down here get a chance to come out and enjoy it because you really, really need to appreciate what kind of person you’ve got representing you. He’s a tremendous, tremendous guy.”
2011 Tip-Off field nearly set: Seven of the eight teams have been secured for next year’s fifth annual Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
The teams confirmed for the field are Alabama, Colorado, Iona, Maryland, Purdue, Temple and Wichita State. A final team from the Big East Conference will be confirmed at a later date.
Next year’s tournament is scheduled to be held Nov. 17, 18 and 20 at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan.
A big deal for Puerto Rico: According to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off will generate 2,500 room nights at area hotels and result in an economic impact of approximately $1.8 million.
But for Henry Neumann Sr., Secretary of the Puerto Rico Sports and Recreation Department, the highlight of tournament so far occurred when he followed North Carolina head coach Roy Williams during a news conference on Wednesday.
“To me, it’s just an honor to be at the same seat and the same microphone where Mr. Roy Williams was just sitting,” Neumann said. “That for me is enough. The North Carolina Tar Heels are the New York Yankees of college basketball.”
All 12 games of The Honda Puerto Rico Tip-off will be televised ESPN’s family of networks. All times are Eastern.Cary Estes is a fulltime freelance writer living in Birmingham. He spent 15 years working as a sportswriter for daily newspapers, mostly at the Birmingham Post-Herald. He covered college athletics extensively while at the Post-Herald, including numerous conference and NCAA basketball tournaments. He became a fulltime freelancer in 2006 and has continued covering sports for Associated Press, nbcsports.com, Anthem Motorsports (NASCAR) and several daily newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Observer and Cincinnati Enquirer.