Victoria to host NCAA basketball tourney

Expected top-10 ranked Stanford, Syracuse and Mississippi State hope to be playing in the 2020 NCAA women’s basketball Final Four next March at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

But before the smooth moves at Smoothie will come some smooth dribbling and shooting at CARSA from Nov. 28-30.

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The three big-name schools will highlight the eight-team NCAA Victoria Invitational on Ken and Kathy Shields Court at CARSA Gymnasium, it was announced Friday.

Also coming to the women’s hoops tournament on the University of Victoria campus are Bowling Green, Cal Baptist, Green Bay, Houston and the University of San Francisco.

“The teams alone will account for 400 to 500 hotel rooms — and that’s not counting the fans who come with them. With the fans who travel to watch their NCAA teams, we estimate that’s more than 1,000 hotel rooms in downtown Victoria in the low season,” co-organizer Howard Kelsey said.

“And for basketball fans, we’re talking three top-10 NCAA teams who are strong potentials to be in the women’s Final Four.”

Mississippi State played in the 2017 and 2018 NCAA championship games, Syracuse in the 2016 championship game and Stanford in the 2017 Final Four.

Two-time Olympian Kelsey is among the best basketball players to come out of this province. He played in Canadian national team colours for 11 years and also as a pro in Mexico.

Kelsey is enshrined in both the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame and Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Vancouver native was the UVic athletic co-ordinator from 1983 to 1990 under UVic athletic director Ken Shields, who said he is proud to have been part of an era inside Ring Road that produced 13 national basketball championships, 63 Olympians and 16 Olympic medallists.

Kelsey helped fill McKinnon Gym on a nightly basis for Vikes basketball games. He hopes to do the same at CARSA with the Victoria Invitational.

Among those UVic basketball players during that Vikes national championship era was current UVic athletic director Clint Hamilton, who admitted he had to think about it before jumping on the opportunity to host the NCAA tournament after Kelsey called with the offer.

That’s even though the UVic Vikes women’s team can’t play in it because U.S. collegiate NCAA teams are not allowed to play foreign teams, university or senior, after the limited summer period for such games closes.

“I am passionate about U Sports [Canada’s equivalent of the NCAA] and I believe it is critical for Canadian sport,” Hamilton said.

“But when it was built, CARSA was expected to deliver events. We recognize how important these events are to our business community. An international, global engagement agenda is also important to UVic.”

CARSA hosted the 2017 NBA training camp of the Toronto Raptors.

In the U.S., collegiate NCAA sports, particularly basketball and football, are big business.

“It is very difficult to contract these teams,” Kelsey said.

Ticket details will be announced. The event website is VictoriaInvitational.com.

Kelsey and co-founder David Munro put on a similar men’s and women’s NCAA hoops tournament last year in the Vancouver Convention Centre. The men’s portion of that tournament is going to Florida this year.

The women’s portion coming to Victoria is a collaboration between UVic, co-founders Kelsey and Munro, event owner and operator bdG Sports of Lexington, Kentucky, and the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission.

“The Victoria Invitational is a natural fit with our goals of attracting high-profile sporting events,” said Robert Bettauer, CEO of PISE, and chair of the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission.”

“We punch above our weight in the events we host”

He cited this being the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games, and more recent examples, such as the 2019 IIHF world junior hockey championship co-hosted by Victoria and Vancouver and the Canada-China men’s basketball game last year at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.

Bettauer also mentioned the 2020 Pan American cross-country championships in February on Bear Mountain as a prelude to a Victoria bid for the 2023 IAAF world cross-country championships.

Also in the city this weekend, Bettauer said, is the international inspection team looking things over as Victoria is a contender for the 2022 Invictus Games.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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