In the 1500s, the island of St. Thomas acted as a safe haven for the pirates of the Caribbean. This Thanksgiving weekend, it will act as a round-ball paradise for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
While Michigan students have dreams of drumsticks, mountains of mashed potatoes and reservoirs of rich gravy, the Wolverines have only one thing on their mind — winning Paradise Jam 2011.
Though Michigan has been unshaken by road-play so far in their 4-0 season, the sun, surf and sand of the Virgin Islands is light years away from the cold gloominess of Ann Arbor on the brink of winter. It’s unclear whether the Wolverines can adapt to the time and scenery change, but Michigan coach Kevin Borseth believes that a strong dose of the tropics is just what his team needs right now.
“Trips we’ve taken in the past to tropical areas generally lend themselves to players having a lot more energy,” Borseth said. “There’s a lot more going on around them. It’s great when the same old practice, schoolwork and playing a game gets replaced by sunshine, beach and fun. It changes your mental makeup and makes us all a little more relaxed.”
Senior guard Courtney Boylan is just happy for a bit of a break and to spend some more time with her teammates. The fact that she gets to do it in the Virgin Islands is a nice bonus.
“I think it’s nice to get away with your team and not have any distractions,” Boylan said. “It’s great to be really focused on the three games we are looking to win, as well as spending time with each other and our families. When we’re here we are going from class to practice, back to class and then to study groups. While I would never call class a distraction, it does take time away from focusing on basketball. While we’re down there, we’ll have a lot more time for basketball.”
The Wolverines will be playing in the Reef Division of the Paradise Jam. Michigan will share the bracket with Prairie View A&M, Washington State and Marquette. Of the three games, the tournament officials have saved the best for last with an anticipated rematch between Michigan and the Golden Eagles. Last time the two teams met, Marquette defeated the Wolverines 63-49.
“(Marquette) handed it to us last year,” Borseth said. “We came out of that game and knew that they schooled us. They dominated us for the whole game, and our players haven’t forgotten that. They haven’t forgotten either so it’s going to be a tough contest for us.”
Added junior center Rachel Sheffer: “They are probably going to be one of the better teams we will face down there, and so they will definitely be one of our main focuses.”
Things are different now, though. Last year the Wolverines faced the Golden Eagles with a 1-1 record, coming off a loss to No. 5 Xavier. This year Michigan is coming into this tournament with an undefeated record for the first time since 1993.
Sensing his team’s potential, Borseth was very strategic with his scheduling of this season’s games. Unlike the Cancun Thanksgiving Classic last year that only allowed the Wolverines to play two games, the Paradise Jam will give Michigan a potential three wins to increase the likelihood of consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve always been a game short going into the NCAA Tournament, and this can enable us to pick up that other game,” Borseth said. “The first couple of years here, we’ve always been short one game. We’ve been bumped out of the NCAA Tournament twice, possibly because of that. The Paradise Jam will give us that extra game to compete with a full slate.”