On the tiny Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos, a thousand miles from Washington, basketball isn’t exactly king; cricket reigns as the national sport. But on the basketball courts there, 16-year-old Justin Missick is a standout. Missick averaged 20 points per game in his final year at Wesley Methodist School on Providenciales, the most populated island in Turks and Caicos. With his quickness, he is a tough matchup for those in his age group on the island.
But last week, in a pickup game at Marymount University, Missick, Shadarno Clarke, 14, and Quinton Higgs, 17, — three of 22 players from the island who were visiting in mid-July — received their first taste of the high level of basketball played in the Washington area. It wasn’t always pretty, as Missick had trouble getting to the basket and deferred to teammates.
With the opposing team of Division III players a point away from victory, Missick needed to extend the game with a defensive stop. He stretched out his arms to make his 6-foot-1 frame as long as possible. He didn’t bite on any of the offensive player’s crossover moves. Then, about 20 feet from the basket, the offensive player pulled up for the potential game-winning shot, and Missick had his palm in his face. None of that mattered as the shot splashed through the net. Game over.
Missick trotted back down the court with a smile, but he couldn’t hide the disappointment. Missick loves to win, but against a higher level of competition a hand in the face wasn’t going to be enough.
“These guys over here are like 10 times better,” Missick said afterward. “That was a level that I had never seen before.”
The 22 athletes are in the TCI (Turks and Caicos Island) Rising Stars group who spent last week in the Washington area being exposed to the higher level of basketball played off the island. The group, with players from ages 11-17 from the British overseas territory, trained with Ashburn-based Evolution Basketball Group co-founders Alex Harris and Mandy Ronay.
At an Ashburn McDonald’s on Wednesday before a matchup with the Loudoun Express AAU team, Missick tried the double quarter pounder. He ordered the Big Mac in every previous stop since he’s arrived, but he needed to mix it up. He added two large fries and two large sweet teas to his order.
At home, the custom isn’t to eat fast food. Dinners usually consist of kidney beans and white rice with chicken, macaroni or conch.
“We get sort of tired of cooked food every day,” Missick said. “We enjoy what we got here because we know we don’t get it when we go back home.”
There aren’t any chain fast-food restaurants in Providenciales. The closest they have is Sweet T’s Chicken. At Sweet T’s, two dozen pieces of chicken costs $10, and orders are placed under a canopy with no outdoor seating.
But Rising Stars founder Mervin Forbes, an island native and coach, would like to see the athletes cut back on the fatty foods eaten at family dinners.
“If you want to be athletes you stick to a regimen,” Forbes, 36, said. “Families always are cooking on the island, but you have to get the body tuned in to put everything together as an athlete.”
After the Wednesday game, about 12 athletes packed into a room at the Hilton Garden Inn to play NBA 2K14 on the PlayStation 4 that Higgs purchased one day before. Each kid received money from his parents or held fundraisers so they’d have pocket change while in Ashburn. They passed around a box of cookies covered in sprinkles, ordered Domino’s Pizza and had several pillow fights. On the island, they are free to roam the beach at nights, but for this week the focus is basketball. And their nights are spent rowdily, playing video games and roughhousing with each other in a hotel.
The players want to give their all on the court, but they also craved a chance to explore more of the nation’s capital area than what can be seen from a room on the third floor of a Hilton in the quiet suburb of Ashburn.
“I enjoy it on the island because how it’s small, you pretty much know everybody,” Higgs said. “I also feel like sometimes it’s too small, and I want to go out and try something different.”
While Missick and Clarke both see basketball as their tool to a new life far from the 30,000 people on Turks and Caicos, Higgs doesn’t view the game as his sole way out of Providenciales.
Higgs completed high school and he’s halfway through the top level of academic preparation for college. He has received interest from basketball coaches at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
“I’m probably going to study orthopedics or economics, but I haven’t really decided yet,” Higgs said. “I’d like to play college ball if that’s possible, on a scholarship or something.”
Clarke is a rising 10th-grader and Forbes is working on finding a way to get him to a high school in the United States to mold him. He has a strong body at 6 feet 4, but with just one year of basketball experience, he needs to work on scoring away from the basket and ballhandling. Clarke began the week unable to dribble with his left hand, and he would only drive right. He left with fresh confidence in his left hand.
“I want to play ball anywhere I can outside of Turks,” Clarke said. “I have to work hard, get my game right and be respectful.”
Missick graduated from high school this year, and he would like to attend a prep school or high school in the fall. He is eligible for two years of high school basketball because he doesn’t turn 18 until October 2015. Forbes has a prep school coach coming to watch him next month.
Missick and Higgs are the group elders, and the younger kids constantly have their eyes focused on them. After the shot was knocked in against Missick on Monday, they flocked to him with playful trash talk.
The younger athletes emulate what he does on the basketball court. The Wednesday game against the Loudoun Express was tight late and Missick, catching a breather on the bench, felt his team’s lead slipping away. He grew anxious to re-enter the contest, pulled up his shooting sleeve on his right arm and turned to Higgs. To him, this pickup contest, was much more than a game.
“We’re representing our entire country,” he told Higgs in a raised tone. “We’re putting our country on our back.” Then he returned to the floor, leading the visitors from the island to victory.