Puerto Rico Tip-Off brings new visitors from around the country

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Fans in the Grand Strand for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament are filling up the HTC Center at Coastal Carolina University.

It's the second year in a row the Puerto Rico Tip Off tournament had to relocate. In 2016, the tournament was held in Orlando, and because of Hurricane Maria this year, it was moved to Conway.

"It's our first time and we travel quite a bit, but never been to Myrtle Beach," Jim Riggs said.

Riggs and his wife traveled from St. Augustine, Fla., just for the tournament and to follow their Illinois State basketball team.

"We had not intended to go to Puerto Rice, but as soon as we heard it would be in Myrtle Beach and Conway, we decided to immediately come and immediately made the decision," Riggs said.

Some fans, however, said their reason to travel to the area is bittersweet.

"We were going to go to Puerto Rico but after the hurricane ... actually we were getting airplane tickets just about the time the hurricane hit and decided to wait and then found out it would be in Myrtle Beach," John Kubik, an Iowa State fan, said. "And so we're happy to be here, but thinking about the people certainly of Puerto Rico."

Monica Reese, the wife of an assistant coach at Illinois State, brought around 15 of her family and friends to the tournament.

"Yeah, whether the tournament was in Puerto Rico or here in Myrtle Beach, either way we would have gone and been here to support the team and feel so sorry for the Puerto Ricans and everything they've gone through," Reese said.

The early session games are seeing a smaller crowd, but Dan Shoemaker, an ESPN representative, said organizers are happy about the turnout and it's pretty similar to last year's tournament in Orlando.

Shoemaker said, on average, there were 1,900 tickets sold for day one and day two last year. This year, ticket sales, on average, are around 1,800 for each day.

What typically hurts turnout the most, Shoemaker said, is the fact that games are played during the work day and teams are traveling. He expects Sunday's championship to have a big turnout.

"When you think about how far people are traveling, you know Boise State Idaho, Iowa," Riggs said. "We are originally from Illinois, now live in Florida, and South Carolina people have (it) the easiest. So I think the crowds are reasonable for the distance people have to travel and on fairly quick notice."

Kubik and his wife go to every single Iowa State game and have been to the tournament six years in a row.

"The CCU ticketing sales operations said the Iowa State fan base has been the highest overall. A total of 700 tournament packages were purchased," Kubik said. "We've found Conway at the Coastal Carolina University to be very nice. We've enjoyed it very much."

There are no games scheduled for Saturday. The first game on Sunday is at 11:30 a.m. and the championship is at 7:30 p.m.

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