By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
2008: A New Hoop Odyessy
BELIZE — For the University of Belize basketball team which started their program January of 2006, the Black Jaguars, coached by Kevin Siroki, it’s almost like a scene from the hit movie, “The Air Up There”.
Which would be somewhat fitting considering that one of the stars of the movie that featured Kevin Bacon was none other than a Belizean basketball hero himself and former UCLA and New Jersey Nets product Nigel Miguel.
Miguel who was born in Belize but went to school at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California was a 1981 McDonald’s All-American. That same team featured future NBA Original (1992) Dream Teamer’s, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.
Miguel was also a third team All-America selection, All-Pac-10 first team, the 1985 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and All District for Region 10 Western States. And one of Miguel’s mentors was another Belizean basketball legend, Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn.
Siroki who also played point guard for the Belizean National Team back in the day, has his team going in the right and proper direction. The University of Belize just won the CAUG (Central America University Games) gold medal with a stunning 57-55 win over host Costa Rica.
This after another nail bitter over and much bigger and stronger Panama team, 73-71. The diminutive coach who has the heart of a lion prides his team on being scrappy and aggressive with a great mix of intelligence.
Not hard to believe with Siroki being white and the rest of his entire team being Black there have been more than a few barbs, jabs and ribbings that he and the team had to endure. But, the product on the court and in the class speaks for itself.
The team has to attend classes as each player must maintain at least a 2.50 GPA and be productive citizens in the community. And as Coach Siroki said, “we graduate our kids on time.” They’re taught and encouraged that they not only represent UB (the University of Belize — which is more of an equivalent to a junior college in the United States — although it is indeed a four year school, most student athletes get their Associates Degree first), but if their cards are played right a full scholarship to an American university or college wouldn’t be just a pipe dream.
Current player, shooting guard co-captain Stephen Williams who was told by Coach Siroki, “guards are a dime a dozen in the States. You have to be special in order to get to that level and succeed,” is turning himself into quite an unbelievable player.
He too had to hone his game down at the direction of Coach Siroki who stresses fundamentals. Having had too much playground legend and perhaps too much And 1 in him after watching too much ESPN, Coach had a tough time getting him (and a few others) to completely buy into his system.
But once he did, it’s been lights out ever since. Williams, who stands 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds is not only a dead-eye shooter but an incredible rebounder for his size. In the pivotal game against Panama in the CAUG, Williams had 26 points and 12 rebounds and in the Gold medal game and having to come back from an 11-point deficit, he lead the team with 25 points and again yanked down 12 rebounds.
Williams states, “I know I have to lead by example. My teammate feed off of me.” Lennox Bowman and Travis Lennan are two others to keep an eye on as well.
They just happily lost a player, 6-foot-8 forward, Lennox Cayetano to Southwest Assemblies of God University. Cayetano has a full scholarship to this NAIA school just outside of Dallas, Texas.
He’s the only player of note to have left the Black Jags of UB to head for the states to ply their trade in round-ball. Although he is the first for Coach Siroki they certainly hope he won’t be the last.
Kirk “Shabba” Smith who is the Director of Recreation and Sports at the University of Belize became a star forward for Weber State University in Boise, Idaho in the 1990s starred on the countries National Team along with 6-foot-11 Claude Jones who is now an assistant coach for the Jaguars.
Smith who is 6-foot-7 and still well chiseled is able to give his team first hand knowledge of the college game of the United States. Another goal of Coach Siroki is, “to have our kids go abroad to the States and then come back to help out, to teach and give back because we don’t have a lot of resources here in Belize.”
But Coach Siroki who also coached at the Division II level, Westminster College in the States and Smith and a host of others within the University of Belize family including UB President Dr. Santos Mahung, and Dr. Geraldo Flowers (Director of Development) all have the UB team to heart.
As Director Smith states, “My vision for the department is to someday be on equal footing with the NCAA Division 1 in various disciplines including: basketball, softball, football, volleyball and track and field. More importantly…I aspire to see each student athlete graduate.”
Needless to say the entire contingent aspires to have UB become widely recognized and respected as the top university in their region both academically and athletically.