Freeport's Sunland Baptist Academy captures Santa Slam IV title

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Over the current holiday break, while many students were enjoying their time off from studies and school related activities, a group of student-athletes converged at Oasis High School to participate in the school's annual Southwest Florida Santa Slam boys' basketball tournament this past Tuesday and Wednesday.

This year's tournament featured seven schools including its first international participants, the Sunland Baptist Academy from Freeport, Bahamas.

The defending Grand Bahama Secondary School Athletic Association senior boys champions traveled from Freeport to take on all comers in this year's tournament, and the Stingers didn’t disappoint.

After dispatching host Oasis High School's Sharks boys team in the first day of the two-day tournament, the Stingers took on the undefeated East Lee County High School Jaguars, who were also competing for the first time in the tournament, in the championship game.

The Stingers took control of the game early jumping out to a double-digit lead. However, late in the second quarter, the Jaguars scratched their way back going into halftime only down by five points 33-38.

Coming out for the second half, the Jaguars' aggressive play paid off as they tied the Stingers midway through the third quarter.

While the Jaguars were able to keep it close, the Stingers proved to be too much and held off East Lee County down the stretch on their way to a 72-65 victory and their first championship win outside of the Bahamas, "We have never won a championship outside of the Bahamas. It is a wonderful feeling. These guys play hard. They work hard, and they love the game of basketball," said Stingers head coach Jay Philippe.

 
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SWFL Santa Slam IV

 

Philippe a former player at Sunland between 2004-2006. Philippe went on to attend Webber International University on the west coast of Florida. Upon attaining his degree, Philippe returned to Freeport where he became Sunland's head boys basketball coach three years ago along with another former player Marco Cooper, who became the team's assistant head coach.

Upon accepting the position, Philippe had big shoes to fill, taking the reins from former head coach Bonnie Basden.

Besden, the first woman from Freeport to play for the Bahamas' Women's national basketball team had coached the Sunland boys team for the past two decades. Since 1999, she also headed up an organization known as House of Hoops and Dreams that provides housing for many of the players who come from other islands in the Bahamas to attend the academy. Since the organization's inception, Basden has housed over 85 kids who attend the academy including Philippe when he was a player.

Basden said she had been looking to move away from active coaching to concentrate more on her ministry for some time but, never found the right opportunity until Philippe and Cooper returned home from college, "I wanted to step down for quite some time but, I didn’t have anybody I trusted. After two of my boys that I coached and lived with me came back home, I gave it to them so I could do more administrative work for the ministry."

While she might not be overseeing the day to day operations of the team, Basden is still closely associated with the program as evidenced by her joining the team on their trip to Cape Coral, and showing the youngsters a thing or two on the court, "Every so often I have to get out there and school some of the boys," says Basden.

For both Basden and Philippe, the trip to Cape Coral was well worth the time, "This is my third year as the coach and it is great to win a championship in the state where I went to college," said Philippe.

For East Lee head coach Luther Clemons, while his team fell just short of taking home the top trophy, he considers the experience a victory for both he and his team, "It was great. We did win. We were playing. We played in the championship game, and that is a win. As far as I am concerned, we won."

Started four years ago as a high school girls basketball tournament, the event switched to become a boys basketball tournament two years ago and is quickly becoming recognized as one of the better tournaments in the area. With the addition of international teams this year, Oasis High School Athletic Director Brian Montag is hopeful for the event's future growth, "Other than the City of Palms tournament there isn't any other event like this in our area. This tournament provides something different, something you don’t see every day. It is growing in popularity, and we are now getting calls from schools who want to participate."

One team that has guaranteed its participation in future tournaments is Philippe's Sunland Academy Stingers, "We will be back to defend our championship. Hopefully, we come back an even stronger team. This is a great tournament. Well organized, great environment good facilities, and great people. We will definitely be back next year."