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Basketball makes fast break

 Over the last 10 years, basketball has become one of the fastest growing sports in Jamaica and today ranks in the top five in terms of participation and popularity.

Local basketball is governed by the Jamaica Basketball Association, which was formed in the 1970s.

Ajani Williams is serving his second stint as president. He dismissed the challenge of Captain Clifford Lumsden following a much-publicised campaign leading up to the Annual General Meeting on March 27, 2011.

Since the formation of the national body in the 1970s, five conferences have been established to help with the development of the sport throughout the country.

There is a now a Western Basketball Conference, an Eastern Conference, a Northern Conference, a Central Conference and a Southern Conference.  All those conferences have an elected president and are affiliated to the local governing body.

The National Basketball League sponsored by Flow is the country’s top competition. The league comprises 27 teams from around the island.

Tivoli Gardens Wizards won the 2011 edition of the National Basketball League. The Wizards defeated Majesty Legends 2-1 in the best-of-three finals, which ended on July 10 to claim their second consecutive hold on the title.

Tivoli Gardens Wizards forward Omar Barnes and coach Edward Marshall claimed the league Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year Awards.

The 2011 edition of the league was of high standard. With a very successful 2011 local season and the availability of overseas-based players, the Jamaica Basketball Association had targeted successive titles at the Caribbean Basketball Championships in The Bahamas.

But Jamaica could only manage third place and the bronze medal. The Jamaicans edged out British Virgin Islands 55-54 to win the bronze on July 29.

Jamaica lost their semi-final match to the Bahamas in an overtime thriller, 78-75.

Jamaica’s 2011 squad looked very strong on paper. Overseas-based players in that squad included NBA draftees Patrick Ewing Jnr and Ryan Reid, along with Steven Toyloy, Kimani Ffriend, Akeem Scott, Michael Coburn, Michael Rogers, Garfield Blair, Tyrell Christie, Kenroy Jones and Andre Smith.

The local contingent consisted of six players, including Majesty Legend’s Kemar McLeish, Tivoli’s Omar Barnes and Andrew Whilby, Urban Knights’ Javon Bailey, Oneil Mundle and Linval Brown.

The Virgin Islands edged out the host team of The Bahamas by two points – 91-89 to take the gold medal.

Jamaica has won the Caribbean Championships on four occasions – 1981, 1995, 2004 and 2009. The Championships have been held every two years since 1996.

Jamaica did not compete in the women’s competition in 2011, which was won by Cuba.

The women’s programme, although not as vibrant as the men’s, has done well. Jamaica’s most successful female to date is Simone Edwards, who has played in Europe and in the United States with the Women’s National Basketball Association team Seattle Storms.

Edwards retired on May 19, 2006 just prior to the start of the 2006 Women’s National Basketball Association season. She retired as the team’s all-time leader in rebounds.

Jamaica currently has a player in the NBA, with Samardo Samuels now plying his trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At the school level, basketball is becoming very popular. There are three age-group competitions – Under 14, Under-16 and Under 19.

In an effort to further develop young players, the Jamaica Basketball Association has joined forces with the Jamaica Basketball Development Inc since 2001 to host an annual Star Search and Life Skills Development Camp.

There is also a mini basketball programme geared at encouraging young children to play the sports at any early age.