After a week of team practice, I was informed by Lucaso that the country's deputy prime minister, the Honorable Lester Bird, wanted to meet me. Our high-level government meeting revealed one impressive reason why I was in Antigua. Bird felt the game's popularity had grown so fast (it had been introduced there in the mid-'60s) that it had become a positive factor in limiting the illegitimate birth rate among young people. I've heard many banquet speakers exalt the values of playing basketball, but this was a justification I'd never heard of.
For our 11th practice, Lucaso set up a public scrimmage so I could see how we would react under game conditions. We drove 20 minutes from St. John's to the small country town of Cedar Grove, where junior teams from these two communities were playing. Our game against the rest of the best island players was to follow as the main event.
I hadn't realized that we had entered enemy territory, but I soon noticed that the country players were routing the city team, and their mood was so hostile that the city team quit in the third quarter. I'd never seen a team walk off like that.
Lucaso began an argument with two local officials. The Cedar Grove team, joined by several country comrades, took positions on the court. For some reason, they were determined to prevent us from playing. Our team began to line up to shoot practice layups. There was some pushing and shoving, and as Andy Christian prepared to shoot our first layup, a man with a canoe paddle stepped out and said, "Don't come any further." Andy, who's built like a Sherman tank, accepted the dare.
As Andy rose to shoot, the man hit him across the shoulders with the paddle. The paddle shattered like a clay pigeon. Andy threw his attacker to the ground. The man ran out and returned with a jagged chunk of concrete the size of a football. Andy ran. His aggressor caught up with him and hurled his concrete missile. Andy leaped like a hurdler and was hit in the shoulder. Any normal human would have crumpled on the spot—not Andy. Hard as rock himself, he landed on his feet, picked up the chunk that had hit him and took off after his assailant.
Meanwhile, other Cedar Grovers had picked up rocks and surrounded our team. I watched Tekal take a direct hit on the knee from point-blank range. Mark Christian was struck in the back of the head. When a chunk whistled past my ear, I said, "Let's get the hell out of here!" We helped our wounded and started to run for our lives. A mile out of town Lucaso picked us up in the van. He explained the fight. The Cedar Grove players felt that Lucaso had cheated them the week before when he was a referee of a game in St. John's. They were convinced his favoritism was the reason they'd lost to a city team. They had been taking revenge. Me? I couldn't have asked for a more emotional happening to bring my guys together.
We found out some very bad news the next day. The Caricom Tournament had been postponed indefinitely because of a polio outbreak in Jamaica. We were all terribly disappointed. Even before our harrowing experience, I had felt we were ready to compete as a team. Now we were all revved up with nowhere to go.
I returned home to Michigan in mid-August and made arrangements for barefoot Nya to enroll at Michigan Christian College and for Mark Christian to play soccer for Oakland. We settled into our respective challenges and waited for the tournament to be rescheduled. On Dec. 14, I got word that the tournament in Jamaica was back on. Our first game was against Trinidad in two days.
Mark, Nya and I caught the first available flight from Detroit to Montego Bay on Dec. 16, the opening day of the tournament. From there we were to take a bus to Kingston to rendezvous with the rest of the team, which had flown from Antigua with Lucaso.
I was the 17th person to get into our 12-passenger van. We peeled out of Montego Bay and catapulted our way up, down and around the ribbons the Jamaicans call roads. We finally arrived, 40 minutes late. I was in no shape to make my debut as a famous international basketball coach. We walked into the arena with 10 seconds left in the first half and our team behind by one point. I asked Lucaso lots of questions, then coached Antigua to a 12-point loss.