By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CANCUN, Mexico — On the bus ride Sunday afternoon from the airport to our elegant accommodations — the impossibly vast Moon Palace Resort — the first commercial establishment I saw was a 7-Eleven.
Welcome to Mexico, huh?
The Wahoos are south of the border, and they’re not alone. Also here for the Cancun Challenge are the men’s basketball teams from Kentucky, Stanford, Cleveland State, Oral Roberts, Rider, Florida A&M and Sam Houston State.
A couple of UVa fans spotted the players — and cheered — as the team waited in line to register at the hotel Sunday. Without question, though, the dominant color here is not orange, but blue.
Turn in any direction in the lobby, and you’ll see UK fans. And more UK fans.
The “gym” in which the games will be played, starting Tuesday, is actually in the heart of the hotel, and when I stopped by Sunday evening there were a couple dozen UK fans waiting outside the closed doors of the converted ballroom, hoping one of their heroes would emerge for a handshake and quick photo.
The Cavaliers may see plenty of the Wildcats before this event ends. If the ‘Hoos beat Stanford on Tuesday, they would face the UK-Cleveland State winner Wednesday night.
Check my blog for updates on the team’s Cancun experience. As much as we might like to spend all our waking hours by the water here, it’s a business trip of sorts for the traveling party.
Under NCAA rules, a team must take a day off occasionally, and Tony Bennett gave his players Sunday to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. The Cavaliers will practice Monday afternoon. A banquet for all the teams will be Monday night.
For UVa, 10 scholarship players are on the trip, plus walk-on forward Will Sherrill, whose value to the team seems to be growing with each game.
Seniors Jamil Tucker and Solomon Tat are back home in Charlottesville. Tucker is still on a personal leave of absence, and Tat, a native of Nigeria, doesn’t travel out of the United States because of his visa status.
UVa’s first two games in the Cancun Challenge were held in the distinctly American setting of John Paul Jones Arena. In the first, the ‘Hoos whipped Rider 79-46. In the second, Virginia beat Oral Roberts 76-55, in part because of the dominance of junior forward Mike Scott (15 points, 10 rebounds) in the post.
The win over ORU improved the Cavaliers’ record to 3-1. The ‘Hoos, their new coach said Thursday night, are taking baby steps, and that’s fine with him.
“My big challenge to them is, just don’t go back to ground zero,” Bennett said. “There might be some setbacks, but let’s just make sure we’re inching the right way, and keep knocking, that’s our big thing, and see if we can push that door open.”
Bennett is more familiar with Stanford than his players are. He came to UVa last spring from Washington State, where his teams went 2-5 against the Cardinal.