Per NCAA rules, college basketball programs are allowed to take an overseas trip once every four years. While there are the on-court benefits of playing exhibitions against teams from other parts of the world and having ten practices before departure, the trips can also serve as an educational experience for the coaches and players. Coastal Carolina will be taking a trip this summer, and they’re headed to a country that has never hosted a college basketball program.
Tuesday morning Coastal Carolina announced that it will take a trip to Cuba in early August, arriving August 6 and staying until the 14th. Cliff Ellis’ team will play three games against Cuba’s national team, which will be in the midst of preparations for the FIBA America/Olympic qualifying tournament that’s scheduled to be played in Mexico from August 31 to September 12.
Coastal Carolina, which has appeared in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, returns four starters from a team that won 24 games a season ago led by guards Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins.
“This foreign tour to Cuba is a great honor for our program as the United States begins to open its relationship with Cuba,” Ellis said in the release. “For us to be the first team to travel to Cuba is a testament to our success over the past several years. We will rely on NCAA tournament experiences to play competitive basketball against the Cuban’s top-notch national team.
“It is not only an opportunity to get additional time together as a team prior to opening the season, but also an immense educational experience for our student-athletes.”
Strained relations between the United States and Cuba have improved some of late, with a bill being introduced to Congress in mid-February to lift the trade embargo that existed between the two countries for decades. That move came on the heels of legislation that sought to loosen travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba.
Earlier this month the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League (NASL) played an exhibition in Havana against Cuba’s national team, which is preparing for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Cosmos were the first American professional sports team to play in Cuba since 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles played the first of two exhibitions against the Cuban national team (the second was played in Baltimore).
By Raphielle Johnson, NBC Sports
June 23, 2015