1996: Montserrat vs. The World

Posted: May 18, 2015 in Amazing and Interesting Stories, Coaching, Inspiration, Sports
Tags: ,

The year was 1996.

It was a year earlier when I’d first met my friends on the wonderful, tropical paradise that is Montserrat. I’d trained the national team for those 10-days in ’95, and because it went so well the team decided to enter a tournament in the USA the following summer. It was in Boston, and I was asked to coach them. I really had no idea what kind of tournament it was, who was in it, nothing. Well, when I got there all that changed.

The tournament turned out to be The Bob Cousy Tournament, and the Celtic legend was to be there. It was to feature 32-teams from all over the world, include a huge downtown parade, and was to be attended by college coaches Jim Thompson of Georgetown and Dean Smith of North Carolina, former NBA players John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn and Dave Cowens, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

In other words, it was a pretty big deal. And when I saw the teams entered I was a little worried that we were in over our heads.

Way over.

After the aforementioned parade (where we got a lot of weird looks from the crowd as we marched with our Montserrat flag – “hey, where the hell is monster rat?”) we got our tourney draw. We were to open up against South Africa.

Now, I don’t want to stereotype a country, but remember that this was only 6-years after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, which was essentially a system of discrimination on grounds of race. Whites were supreme. So, let’s just say my team was treated rather poorly by the South African team and its coach. They looked down their noses at us and treated us with total disrespect. I met their coach and he was completely befuddled as to why I’d be interested in coaching a bunch of athletes from the Caribbean. It was beyond his comprehension. Then he and I got into a little fracas the day before we were to play. We were supposed to practice after them, and they thought they could cut into our time. India was supposed to go after us, so I knew we had to get on the court. I asked him to leave, and he ignored me.

Finally, we simply walked onto one end of the court and started a layup drill. He didn’t like that much, and we ended up meeting at midcourt for a little nose-to-nose screamfest. There may have been a chest-bump by me as well, but that’s neither here nor there. Long story short we had to be broken up by some tournament officials.

But, my players knew I had their back. We would not be pushed around. As a matter of fact, we would be the ones doing the pushing.

At our game the next day, played in the 3600 seat Hart Recreation Center on the Holy Cross University campus, the South Africans showed up in matching traveling suits, shoulder bags and shoes.

We had nothing that matched except some practice jerseys with the word “Undertakers” across the front, which our team had inexplicably chosen to name themselves for the tournament.

During warmups, the South Africans laughed at us and generally acted as if we didn’t belong on the same court with them.

They were wrong.

As I recall, the smiles began to fade as 9 of my 12 players tomahawk dunked during our layup drill, then disappeared completely as we jumped out to a 17-3 lead.

That Montserrat team was proud. Nobody was going to laugh at them and get away with it. Nobody.

The final score was 90-75, and the South African players and coaches walked out without shaking our hands after the game.

Guess they had a plane to catch.

Christopher Bright led us with a monster game of 42-points and 19 rebounds, and Marlon Evans added 22 points.

We were in the Sweet 16.

Next up was India, which at a population of over 1-billion was slightly larger than Montserrat’s population of, oh, 5000 or so. Turns out population was as important as pretty traveling outfits and shoulder bags because India got their asses kicked too, 89-77. Bright was again unstoppable with 41-points and 18 boards, while Evans kicked in 27 points this time.

We’d just beaten a team from a country that was roughly 200,000 times bigger than us. What the hell was happening?

We were in the Elite 8.


Photo taken at a party in Boston during the tournament.

It was then that the press got a hold of the story. Seems they were interested in how this team from a tiny island in the Caribbean, coached by a white dude from southern Ohio, was winning games in the Bob Cousy Tournament. I remember doing an interview with National Public Radio and the interviewer just shook his head throughout the whole discussion. For some reason people couldn’t get their brains around the whole story.

Bottom line we were in the Elite 8, one game from the Final Four.

Up next? Poland.

My friends, Poland’s team included seven players from their Olympic team. Seven.

When we walked into the arena it was packed. Seems we’d developed a cult following around Boston, and they were quite vocal. Nearly everyone was pulling for the team from the little island with the volcano.

We’d seen Poland earlier in the tournament, and they looked exactly like you’d expect a team from Poland to look – big, brawny, hairy, and mean. They’d basically beat up their two previous opponents, intimidating them as they rolled towards the Final Four.

Problem was, my Montserratians weren’t easily intimidated.

Poland’s style was slow, methodical, and they liked to beat the ball inside to their post players. We were the exact opposite – fast and wide-open. And although we smiled a lot, we could be as mean as anybody when we had to. The game was back and forth throughout and we trailed 57-50 with 5:00 to go. However, a furious full-court press caused some


Myself and Edmond Ogorro, Summer 2013.

turnovers, we tied it with a 3-pointer with 2:00 left, and we won 70-65. My man Edmond Ogorro was all over the boards in this one, dominating Poland’s big men to the tune of 25 rebounds. Trust me, they feared him. I’m guessing his name is still mentioned in hushed tones in some parts of the Polish countryside.

So, Final Four, and delirium. Nobody could believe it. A team from a small Caribbean island that was still reeling from a volcanic eruption had waltzed into Boston and beaten South Africa, India and Poland. Of 32-teams from all over the world, Montserrat was one of only four that remained.

Turns out guys with dreadlocks and accents like Bob Marley could play a little ball after all, and the world was finding that out.

Our Final Four opponent was a formidable one, however. Yep, we were playing a little outfit from a country called The United States of America. In fact, it was a team comprised of US college All-Americans, and they were a little too much for us. OK, full disclosure, they were a lot too much for us. They hammered us in the semi-final, but only after we battled them to a stand-off through 2 1/2 quarters before running out of gas.

The final score was 120-81.

OK, so we lost that semi-final game. But I’ll guaranteed you this –  not one person who watched the 1996 Bob Cousy Tournament will ever forget the team that nobody had ever heard of, the team that beat three teams they weren’t supposed to beat, the team that made the Final Four, the team that shocked the tournament.

The team that South Africa, India and Poland will never, ever forget.

The team from the British West Indies.

The team from the Island of Montserrat.

Note: If you’re wondering how I remember the details of this story, I have newspaper articles from Boston newspapers as well as the scorebook from the tournament.

  1. Mackie says:

    Great article Coach Shoe, well written with every detail, thanks for answering my call to fly to Boston that year to coach the team still greatly appreciated Mackie

Gimme a holler.

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