Wilbraham and Monson Academy boys basketball coach Chris Sparks has had one thing on his mind since his team arrived in Naples this week. It hasn't been beaches or sunshine.
"Practice, practice, practice," Sparks said.
The Titans booked their trip to town for the failed Gulfshore Invitational. When the 22-team tournament was canceled two weeks before its scheduled start, WMA was stuck with plane tickets to Southwest Florida International Airport.
Instead of turning the business trip into a vacation, Sparks decided to make this week a mini-training camp for his team. The Titans have practiced twice a day at Marco Island Academy and have squeezed in a few games.
WMA, a college prep and boarding school in Wilbraham, Mass., faced Cincinnati-Moeller at Golden Gate High School on Friday. It's one of three games the Titans will play this week thanks to the efforts of the local basketball community to find the stranded teams local opponents.
The Titans played in a tournament in Rhode Island the week before Christmas. With four days off for the holidays, Sparks didn't want his team to lose any more time on the court.
The trip to Naples ended up being good for WMA. The Titans are young this year with only two seniors, so the time spent practicing, eating and staying together in the hotel has helped build chemistry.
"We're enjoying it," said senior Kamali Bey, in his third year at WMA. "We've had a lot of practice, a lot of bonding. We've spent a lot of time together, so it's been good."
The Titans basketball team is a melting pot reflecting the enrollment at WMA, one of the oldest schools in the country. WMA's history dates back to 1804, and 32 countries are represented among the 425 sixth-grade through postgraduate students.
WMA has players from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turkey. Kerem Kanter, a 6-foot-8 Turkish forward, is the brother of Utah Jazz player Enes Kanter.
"That's one thing that the school prides itself on, it's diversity," said Bey, a 6-2 guard who's been looked at by Temple and Drexel. "That trickles down into the team and the other athletic programs. We come from a lot of different areas. That's what makes us unique."
Even the American players hail from a variety of regions, mostly in the Northeast. That's one of the reasons the Titans chose to come to Naples after the Gulfshore was canceled — the players return to their various hometowns after this week, and their flights are out of Southwest Florida International Airport.
Players come to WMA from around the globe, they say, to get a world-class education. WMA is a boarding school where students pay $45,000 to live on campus in a college atmosphere.
"We've got a good basketball team, but great academics," junior Goodluck Okonoboh said. "From the academic standpoint, from the basketball standpoint, we're always working. We're always in the gym."
Okonoboh, a 6-9 forward who has made recruiting visits to Syracuse, West Virginia and Providence, is from Boston, but his parents are Nigerian. His first name was given to him by his father, who survived a gunshot wound to the chest a week before Goodluck was born.
The trip to Naples is one of many the Titans will make this season. The prep school, which is not part of the National Federation of State High School Associations, plays all around the country, and has just seven home games this season.
In addition to facing Moeller, WMA plays Toronto-Waterloo on Sunday and Barron Collier on Monday. Moeller and Waterloo also were scheduled to play in the Gulfshore.
This isn't WMA's first trip to Southwest Florida. Last year the Titans played in the City of Palms in Fort Myers in the tournament's first Signature Series for prep schools and independent teams.
Playing in elite events like the City of Palms is just another way the Titans are trying to prepare for the next level, not just in the classroom but on the court.
"All of our kids, (players) 1 through 12 will go on to play college basketball at some level," Sparks said. "That's why they come to our school for preparation for that, academically and athletically."