By RENALDO DORSETT

IN an effort to foster the development of achievement both on the court and in the classroom, one local school will enter a new venture as its basketball tournament boasts an unprecedented award for its top player.

Noble Preparatory Academy is all set to host its inaugural Varsity Boys Spring Classic March 30 to April 1 at the Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium.

The Most Valuable Player of the tournament’s championship winner will qualify for a full-scholarship to attend Niagra College in Ontario, Canada.

NPA President Geno Bullard said the invitational is intended to benefit our country’s youth through basketball, with an emphasis on mentoring and promoting educational success.

“We wanted to offer that same opportunity that our NPA students are getting. We transfer our students directly to college every year. These players play all year but we want this tournament to be different because at the end of this journey, we want to be able to say that someone earned the opportunity to go to college for their expense and their hard work they put into winning. You play hard, you push your team to victory and we are going to provide you with the opportunity to go to college, on us,” he said. “This will be the first time someone externally from NPA gets this scholarship. We don’t just want them to walk away with a handshake and a trophy. The ultimate goal is to give them the opportunity at higher education.”

NPA has been able to provide over $200,000 in scholarships in five years and have transitioned an additional 167 students to Niagara College to obtain a college degree in seven years.

The tournament will also include career planning sessions to assist players with life choices after basketball.

Bullard said it is in keeping with the school’s theme – “When the game ends and the glory fades, educated students will be the ultimate winner.”

“Basketball is the backdrop, but it’s bigger than that and we want it to be more than just a tournament. We want to develop a true event that will enhance the players. We will have career counselling that is mandatory for every team. We want to sit down and discuss education. Once the season is done what do your grades look like? What are your plans for education at the next level? What’s on the agenda? Do you have any idea what you would like to study at this point? These are questions that need answers,” Bullard said.

“We have very talented basketball players but throughout the year we never bring these questions to the forefront and we never check them. What are the kids going to do once we concluded basketball season and once they graduate in June? We want everyone, the players and schools to be aware that once you come to NPA you are going to get quality basketball and you are going to get educational opportunities to find guidance.”

The first edition of the tournament will feature 12 local teams, with plans to include international teams in 2017.

“The feedback we have gotten so far has been good. We need something different. We need to offer more. I think the coaches are in agreement with that. We can’t just be playing basketball and at the end we have to walk around with more than just a handshake so I can say the coaches have been receptive,” Bullard said.

“Come out and compete and through this effort we can foster a better relationship between our coaches and their players as it opens the dialogue to ensure their players are academically sound. We can play as many games as we want, but we have to open this dialogue. Maybe we can encourage other tournaments to do the same.

The event will also feature performances by local artists, including Julien Believe and Jonny Cake.

In addition to being the founder and the president of the NPA, Bullard is also the international recruiter for the entire Caribbean region for Niagara College. NPA has academic ties with Ridley, Niagara and Brock University.

“Coaches from Niagra and Ridley College are going to be there so a lot of opportunities are going to be there. It is up to the players to take advantage. Not only play your ‘A’ game but try to make an impression that will last. They will speak to the teams directly about education and playing directly at that level. It is important not just to play but to remain eligible and remain academically sound. Through this tournament we have to bring awareness to that point.,” Bullard said. Guys like Buddy Hield and all the others excelling at the Division I level, they are able to maintain that because of academics. It is going to be something special and hopefully we can build on this momentum. “

Bahamian players have been integral in the programmes for both institutions. Marako Lundy, Delroy Grandison and Tenero Lundy have led the Niagra Knights to consecutive playoff berths while Shamarr Burrows and Livingston Bromwell have led the Ridley Tigers to an historic championship season. Coaches from both schools will be in attendance at the event.

Niagra head coach Ketih Vassell said: “I’m really excited to be able to come down to the tournament. I’m looking forward to it. Make sure you bring your A game because I know the competition is going to be tough and I’m really excited to come out and see it.”

David Witty, Ridley head coach and director of basketball operations, said two of NPAs recent grads have attended Ridley and “we probably wouldn’t have won the championship without those two fine young men. One of the things I always tell the Bahamian players at Ridley is, ‘if you’re coming for basketball, don’t come.’ But if you’re coming for the academics we can provide you with an exciting basketball programme to go along with it.”

For more information on the tournament, contact the organisers at info@npabahamas.com

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